Family Dinner through Generations
By Jacquie Reed, Spiritual Director
I come from a blended family. My mother is Russian and my father is Greek. My maternal grandparents and my father and his parents came through Ellis Island. My mother was born in a small town in upstate New York. Religion and food bound immigrant families together enabling them to continue the customs and traditions from the ‘old country’ as they called their native land.
Growing up, I ate many dinners at both sets of grandparents. I learned very early that family dinner was a daily ritual. Everyone waited until each member of the family was present before beginning a meal. However, dinner was very different at both families. Dinner with my Russian grandfather was quiet and holy. My grandfather stood up and sang a blessing in Russian that continued for several minutes. Everyone joined him and no one sat down or even moved until the singing ended. When my grandfather finished, he made the sign of the cross, and only after he sat down and began to eat, could everyone else do the same. When the meal ended, my grandfather stood up and sang a prayer of thanksgiving. He crossed himself once again, which was the signal that the meal was over and everyone could leave.
Dinner with the Greek side of the family was completely different. No one prayed. The meal began when all of the food reached the table. Everyone ate, talked loudly and boisterously and laughed. The children were expected to remain at the table until dessert ended. Even though the meal was over, the adults remained around the table laughing and talking.
When I wasn’t visiting my relatives, family dinner was just as much a ritual as at their house. Growing up in the late forties and fifties found my family eating all three meals together, especially in the summer when school was out.
When Mike, my husband, and I were married in 1974, we made eating meals together a priority. We rarely missed sharing an evening meal the whole time the children were growing up. Our daughters, Sarah and Anna, were home most evenings after school as they grew up in the late seventies and eighties before there were so many choices for activities.
Family dinner at our house began with a blessing. Everyone had an opportunity to speak and contribute. All of us looked forward to family dinner as a time to reconnect and share what happened during the day.
I never realized the importance of our family dinner until Sarah, came home for Christmas vacation at the end of her first semester of college (IU) in December 1996. Christmas Eve, historically at our house is chaotic since Mike is a pastor and usually there are five or six services. He doesn’t even come home for dinner because there is not enough time. I usually prepare a ‘picnic’ that he eats whenever he has time. Anyway, Sarah was helping me get dinner ready and she asked, “Don’t we have family dinners anymore?” “Yes”, I replied, “but Dad and Anna are at church. Anna is dancing at two services. They took food with them. I was planning to eat dinner with you.” “Oh” she answered, looking disappointed.
Although she was disappointed, I was joyful, because I had not realized how meaningful family dinnertime was for her.
I feel certain that when the children have families of their own, they too, will continue the tradition of mealtime together that began three generations ago.