"Alice in Wonderland's" down-the-rabbit hole tea party with the hyper March Hare, the riddling Mad Hatter and snoozing Dormouse was hardly a comforting affair to moderate the stress of the day. But that's precisely the goal of modern day tea parties, events that have fast become holiday traditions, mostly among women "” and often their children.

But don't think they are restricted to yesterday's poised-pinkie, white-gloved set. The tea shops of today are alive with chatter. The clatter of teacups is accompanied by music and laughter. It's a time out with friends or an afternoon with a relative past the partying years.

"I believe the industry as a whole is growing," says Susan Schultz of Yesterday's Café and Tea Room in Florence, a European-style tea room in a 120-year-old building. "People are looking for a respite . . . especially with the economy, they look for comfort, elegance, a homey feel. They may not come once a day, but once a month they treat themselves."

"I think ladies take more time to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea and something extra besides scones," says Beverly Mussari of Gazebo Tea Garden in Blue Ash. "They actually want the special TLC tea experience. They like being pampered. It brings out the feminine side and gives them time to share memories, stories."

And Christmas is prime time for teas, be they at sophisticated tricked-out dining rooms, historic homes, horse farm cottages or Main Street shops. Make reservations early if you have your eye on tea at the elegant Cricket Lounge at the Cincinnatian or the Art Deco palace of the Palm Court at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland. This time of year reservations are de rigueur. Most offer party/shower accommodations. Just don't wait.

Look forward to lavish holiday décor, fine china, silver service, live music, fresh flowers, vintage linens and melt-in-your-mouth fare that includes gingerbread men, scones "” even crumpets and clotted cream. (Note: Tea prices include tax and tip).

Milford Tea Room
217 Main St., Old Milford
Cheryl Flaherty offers everything from cream teas to soup-and-tea, afternoon tea, and princess tea for 12 and under, as well as lunches and desserts. Ask about the Dickens holiday tea and live music. No credit cards. (513) 340-4736 or www.thetearoominmilford.blogspot.
Cricket Lounge
Cincinnatian Hotel, downtown
Two courses with tea, live music, 2-4 p.m. Dec. 1-30 only. $35.95 adults, $18.95 12 and under. (513) 331-3000 or www.cincinnatianhotel.com.
Bon Bonerie Tea Room
2030 Madison Road, O'Bryonville
Three tiers of scones, savories and sweets. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to noon Sundays. $20 adults, $14 children. (513) 321-3399 or www.bonbonerie.com.
Gazebo Tea Garden
10461 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash
High tea with scones, salads, savories, sandwiches and desserts. Ask about Beverly Mussari's etiquette workshops, gingerbread house teas for kids. Be nice and she'll share her lemon curd recipe. 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. $19.50. (513) 985-0027.
Little Britain House Tea Room
5309 Idlewild Road, Burlington, KY
Phyllis Tattershall's tea house nestled in a horse farm offers three tea servings (cream, petite, full plus a ploughman's lunch). $10.35 to $27.98. Children's tea first Saturday of December with Storybook Lady and Magic House. (859) 586-5802 or www.littlebritainhouse.com.
Mrs. Teapots
339 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue, KY
Charming lace-and-china shop for lunches or four-course high afternoon tea, which is served at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, (private parties Sundays). $20.95 adults, $14.95 age 10 and under. (859) 491-2731 or www.mrsteapots.com.
Orchids at Palm Court
Hilton Netherland, downtown
Elegant surroundings, sandwiches, pastries. 2, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays, September through May. $27 adults. (513) 421-9100 or www.orchidsatpalmcourt.com.
Promont House
906 Main St., Old Milford
Victorian mansion of Ohio's 43rd governor John M. Pattison is operated by the Greater Milford Area Historical Society. Its volunteers home-bake and stage sought-after four-course private-party teas that include mansion tours. Ask about the special December tea for girls and their dolls. $20 (minimum of 10) and a month's notice. Rated No. 1 in Ohio at TeaMap.com, a directory of tea shops in the U.S. (513) 697-8112 or www.milfordhistory.net.
Tea Parlor
5605 Yankee Road, Liberty Township
Mother-daughter tea team Susie and Jennie Schecter in Liberty Township home. Afternoon, dessert, cream or savory menus for teas with made-from-scratch goodies, plus children's tea. Ask about their special holiday blends. Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. $9 to $18. (513) 777-3949 or www.theteaparlor.net.
Yesterday's Café and Tea Room
264 Main St., Florence, KY
120-year-old building. European tea with three tiers of savories and sweets with soup, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon or 1:30 p.m. Sundays. $15. Lunch available daily. Ask about Susan Schultz's candlelight evening teas with harp. (859) 594-4832 or www.yesterdayscafeandtearoom.com.
What's Your Cup of Tea?
There's more to tea than a pot of boiling water and a cookie. Every tea room gives it a personal twist, some serving "cream" tea, "petite" tea, "high" or "full" tea, all depending on the menu. Most include the following: scones (often accompanied by traditional clotted cream and jam, fruit breads, fresh fruit); savories (biscuits or finger sandwiches, mini-quiches); and sweets (pastries and cookies, chocolates), all accompanied by loose-leaf tea, of course.