Our wait is almost over, and the children's hearts are aflutter with anticipation toward the birth of the Christ Child. As we enter the final week of this all too brief Advent, perhaps we might succeed in brushing aside the visions of sugarplums for just a bit longer by preparing a Tea honoring the Old Testament figures whose lives were a compass for humanity, pointing the True path toward the Promised Redeemer.
My aim for this Tea was simplicity, suggesting plain offerings with common ingredients, in hopes that this menu will not add to the burdens that creep in the week before Christmas. Children are so dear, so unfailingly receptive to religious themes, and so easy to please that I have reason to hope symbolism will triumph where my culinary advice fails.
A Jesse Tea Menu
Isaac's Bundle of Sticks
Joseph's Coat of Many Colors
The Burning Bush
Moses' Tablets of the Law
The Root of Jesse
David's Star Tea Sandwiches
Bethlehem, House of Bread (optional)
John the Baptist's Honey
Angelic Messengers (optional)
Pure White Cakes for Our Blessed Mother OR Flowers of Jesse (or both)
How to shorten this Tea, if needed:
Host a "Tea of Promises," emphasizing God's Covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, along with the Blessed Mother as the promised "Woman" of Genesis.
Recipes and Suggestions
1. "Jesse Tea"
Children love plays on words. Any type of tea or iced tea would work for this one.
2. "Adam's Apple" (Genesis 3: 6)
During the Christmas season, we are all a bit overworked. A plain bowl of apples is enough for this offering. If you are like me and forgot to put out those fun little Gummi Worms for your Tea in Honor of Guadalupe last week, you might want to add them to the bowl for effect. They could represent the serpent or just stand on their own as worms to remind us that the sin of Adam brought death and decay in the world.
Another thought would be to skip the tea and serve "Adam's Apple Cider." I prefer the visual image of the apples in a bowl, but you should do whatever is most convenient. Other possibilities: apple chips, tea sandwiches spread with apple butter, or some kind of apple pastry.
3. "Noah's Ark" (Genesis 9: 12-17)
I thought about suggesting bakery rainbow cookies for Noah's Rainbow, but did not want the tea to be too loaded with sweets. Noah's Arks (pictured below) are a cute and healthy alternative. Take a piece of celery, and cut it to a length of about two inches. Trim the bottom so that it will sit flat on the plate, and trim the two ends on an angle so that it begins to have the shape of a boat. Cut a grape tomato in half and pop it on top. The plate could be lined with a thin layer of Ranch dressing for a "sea" if you do not think it would be too messy.
[Celery is extremely choke-able, so please exercise caution when serving to young children.]
4. Abraham's Stars (Genesis 15: 5)
We still have tons of Dora the Explorer Cinnamon Stars cereal left over from our Guadalupe Tea, so this is an obvious choice for us. You might consider star cookies, white chocolate chips, or even star shaped sprinkles. Then again, for something very, very easy and impressive for younger children, just take one of the Adam's apples, cut it in half horizontally, and show them Abraham's "stars" inside. (I am a firm believer in cutting corners--and apples--when necessary!)
5. "Isaac's Bundle of Sticks" (Genesis 22: 6)
Abraham's son, Isaac, carried the bundle of sticks for the sacrifice as a precursor to the wood of the cross carried by God's Only Begotten Son on Calvary. For this symbol, put exactly eight small pretzel sticks per child into bundles, and tie them with a bit of embroidery floss, yarn, or, as my imaginative daughter Agnes suggested, shoestring licorice.
6. "Jacob's Ladder" (Genesis 28: 12)
To commemorate Isaac's son Jacob's flight from the fury of his brother Esau, and the prophetic dream he had along the way, have the children remove the floss from their pretzel sticks and arrange them on plates in the shape of two-runged ladders--or perhaps even one long shared ladder in the middle of the table.
7. "Joseph's Coat of Many Colors" (Genesis 37: 3-4)
The coat of many colors given to Joseph by his doting father Jacob incited the wrath of his jealous brothers who sold him into slavery in the land of Egypt. I can think of many ways to symbolize this coat, but here is a particularly easy one. Spread peanut butter on bread (already cut into a pretty shape, or just cut in fourths with the crust removed). Using a stencil made out of wax paper, pour colored round sprinkles over the peanut butter to create the shape of a "coat of many colors." You could also use the stencil to spread the peanut butter, adding the sprinkles afterward like glitter on glue. If you are pressed for time, do not worry about the stencil. Spread peanut butter on small bread shapes and let the children sprinkle the colors on it themselves. (The results of these three suggestions are pictured below.)
Another thought would be to cut the sandwiches using gingerbread girl cookie cutters, trimming all but the robe.
8. "The Burning Bush" (Exodus 3: 2-3)
Broccoli florets look exactly like tiny green bushes. Add a bit of Thousand Island or Honey Mustard dressing to each to remember the flame that burned but did not consume the bush. Children would probably prefer dipping the florets into the dressing themselves, but I photographed a few already completed to show the effect. Once again, please remember--I am no food stylist, and broccoli is not an especially photogenic vegetable!
9. "Moses' Tablets of the Law" (Exodus 34: 1)
Two Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies or Mini Milanos per child, and you are in business! You might want to write numbers on the "tablets" from a tube of icing, but I would suggest leaving it plain for convenience.
10. "The Root of Jesse" (Isaiah 11: 1 and 10)
Show the children a root vegetable, such as a carrot (or some fragrant ginger), preferably with the plant still attached, and explain how the root forms the base from which a plant can grow and flourish. Then let them help themselves from a bowl of baby carrots to represent "The Root of Jesse."
11. "David's Star Tea Sandwiches" (1 Samuel 17: 12-51)
The Star of David is such an easy shape to recreate. Use your favorite thin-sliced bread and cold cuts. For example, you might put American Cheese on a bit of buttered white bread, cutting it into a triangle shape. Then rotate the top bread triangle halfway, forming a Star. (This is a simple and kid-friendly suggestion. Needless to say, you could make much tastier sandwiches for this. All that matters is that you choose a filling that will not fall out of the bread when the top slice is turned.)
12. "Bethlehem, House of Bread" (Matthew 2: 5-6)
God promised that the Savior would be born in the City of David, Bethlehem. Because Bethlehem means "Houst of Bread," I couldn't resist suggesting a basket of bread, rolls, or scones for the table.
13. "John the Baptist's Honey" (Luke 1: 41; Matthew 3: 3)
St. John the Baptist spent his life exhorting others to Prepare for the coming of Our Lord, living on honey and wild locusts in the desert. My guess is that your darlings would not be interested in trying locusts, but perhaps they would enjoy a squirt of honey in their tea or swirled on the peanut butter "Coats of Many Colors."
14. "Angelic Messengers" (optional)
If you have a few Stella D'oro Angel Wings cookies left over from your Guadalupe Tea, you might want to put them on a tray to represent the Angel Gabriel (or perhaps add them to your Jacob's Ladders). Then again, you might share a gorgeous cookie like the one we found at our local bakery (below). One of these is enough for a whole family, with each child taking a little piece.
15. "Pure White Cakes for Our Blessed Mother" or "Flowers of Jesse" or both
Mary's Fiat brought our Redeemer into the world, and no Advent Tea would be complete without a vivid reminder of her. One thought would be to bake pure white cupcakes to represent her spotless, perfect purity. (Last year, we made a tower of cupcakes to celebrate the Feast of Mary, Mother of God that could be adapted with white cake, white frosting, and white sugar.)
If you are pressed for time and unable to bake, make quick "Flowers of Jesse" out of red and green spice drops, readily available this time of year. Press down the red spice drop with your thumb as if you were making thumbprint cookies. This will form the rose. Then do the same for a green spice drop, cutting it in half to form two leaves arranged around each flower.
These make a perfect final course to the Tea on their own, but the ambitious may use them to decorate "Our Lady's Cakes." I love the idea of the vibrant Flowers springing from the pure white cakes, reminding the children of Our Lady and her Divine Son. These would be great for Christmas as well.
As with the Lenten and Easter Teas, small cards with the Biblical Quotes handwritten or printed on them add to the display and reinforce the symbolism for the children. Oh, and if you decide to host this Tea for next year, here is a tip: the time to purchase pink and purple table linens is around Easter. Last March, I was able to purchase gorgeous, inexpensive pink and purple table cloths to save for Advent very inexpensively. Nowadays, everything is red, green, and gold.
Here are a few photos to illustrate some of the suggestions above. Believe me, I know these are not anything too spectacular, but I think they illustrate well how easy this menu really is. I had to laugh outright as I dipped those homely broccoli florets into Thousand Island dressing, and 12 year old Agnes beamed with admiration, exclaiming, "Mommy, you are like the Catholic Martha Stewart!" : ) : ) : ) Ah, see what I mean about children? They truly look with the eyes of love!
Or, if you are in the mood for something sweet, try Noah's Rainbows instead:
Abraham's Stars (an idea borrowed from the Guadalupe Tea):
Isaac's Bundle of Sticks:
Suggested Steps for Joseph's Coat of Many Colors:
Three possibilities for these sandwiches:
The Burning Bush:
Flowers of Jesse:
Jesse Tea, Shopping List
Dora the Explorer Cinnamon Star Cereal (or any other "stars")
Slim Pretzel Sticks
Multi-colored round sprinkles (non-parielles)
Thousand Island, Honey Mustard, or Ranch Dressing
White or wheat bread for two kinds of sandwiches
Bread to put in a basket for "Bethlehem" (optional offering)
Milk for the tea
Butter for the tea sandwiches
American Cheese or other cold cuts for "Star of David Tea Sandwiches"
Milano or mini Milano Cookies from Pepperidge Farm
Stella D'oro Angel Wings (optional)
Ingredients for White Cupcakes and/or red and green spice drops