The call is different in every home. In some, there is the formal tinkling of the bell. In others, “Dinner’s ready!” is bellowed in many different languages in homes across the world. The call is the unanimous invitation to dine, feast and fellowship together.
As the year winds down, the holidays bring opportunities for families who have been separated due to distance and busy lives to reconnect. In fact, yearlong grudges are even forgotten or brushed aside in the spirit of forgiveness that is often celebrated at Christmas.
But major holidays and celebrations ought not to be the only time that families gather together to have a meal. Yes major celebrations come with lots of cooking and lavish table spreads but it is the attention to normal everyday meals that really helps to build bonds that bind families together.
It is often said that a family that eats together, stays together. There is some truth to that. When we sit to share meals, we reinforce our ties with each other. This is why you go to lunch or head out for happy hour with your favourite co-workers or friends. Meals bring people together.
Meals are very important for couples as well, with and without children. Even if it is a modest meal, or leftovers, set your table (or have your spouse do it), and call him or her to the table. Romantic dinners by candlelight with romantic music set the ambience for deep connections and should be enjoyed by couples as often as possible. You can do this at home or dine out at a restaurant where they do all the work. This means leaving the kids at home because a romantic, intimate dinner, never ever includes children (even though it may lead to them).
I can recall having to set and clear the table every night for family dinners. All of us would sit and the youngest baby brother would be strapped in his high chair right up to the table. Everyday meals would be served a la carte for quick serving and washing. This enabled us to get through meals timely, since weekdays were busy with homework and study time. Who knows, it may have also been a smart way of ensuring portion control for teenage boys who seemed bent to eat the family out of house and home. On the other hand, weekend and festive meals were served buffet style as we all had more time to sit together and talk. We learnt from buffets how to share, and the etiquette of dining tastefully even when your favourite dishes are heaped temptingly in front of you. The dining table, in so many ways, symbolized the outside world and we learnt many valuable lessons.
From the table, children learn that the meal does not start nor end until the last person joins the table or finishes eating. This teaches them that everyone is important. They also learn to wait their turn. When their favourite dish is being passed from left to right in the opposite direction from them, they have to patiently wait, knowing that their turn will eventually come. If they throw tantrums over the age of three, you withhold the thing they are crying for so that they know that certain behaviours are unacceptable. When they stop crying, they get what they want. This is a huge life lesson. Sometimes your desires will not be met immediately but if you are patient enough, and display the right behaviour, you will be justly rewarded. As children get older, they are taught what constitutes appropriate conversation and manners, which is key for proper socializing.
There are also chores related to the dining experience. Someone may help with the cooking, plating, setting or clearing up of the table, as well a washing the dishes. These chores teach children that every role is important and ought to be respected and prepare them to take care of themselves when they go out on their own during their college years.
Another tradition in many homes across the world is that of saying grace for the food. Giving thanks for the food allows children to be grateful for their blessings and the roles of those who take care of them. It also makes them mindful of those who do not have so they learn to appreciate their own bounty and not take it for granted.
Dining at the table presents a remarkable opportunity to also learn about your loved ones, their interests, successes and failures and to boost them when they need it and guide them in the right direction.
So, as the year draws to a close, please gather your family together and make a meal, whether it be lavish or modest and seat everyone together. Whether you family is huge or small -like mine with only two of us- make the time to sit and look back on the year together over a meal and talk about your dreams for the New Year. Bon Appétit!