How does your family eat dinner? Does everyone gather at the kitchen or dining room table and turn off their smartphones? Do you all grab a plate and sit in front of the TV? The way that families have eaten dinner has changed over time.
NPR points out previous to the late 18th century, families did not eat dinner together. The reason has a lot to do with how their homes were set up. They did not have a dining room with a table set aside for the purpose of having the family gather at it for dinner.
Instead, rooms and furniture in their homes were multi-purpose. Their table was used for many different purposes and was small (as compared to tables today). In the 18th century, people lived with extended families. In other words, a set of parents would live with their children and also with their own parents. Families had, on average five or more children.
Families in the 18th century ate dinner in shifts. They couldn’t all fit around the table at the same time. If there weren’t enough chairs for everyone, the men would sit in the chairs and the women and children would stand. Some of the women and children might come and go from the table instead of remaining there for the entire dinner.
One of the very first American homes to have a dining room was Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, which was built in 1772. The dining table consisted of two freestanding drop-leaf tables that were extended to be put together to form a larger table. When the table was fully extended, it could seat twelve people.
Some other 18th century homes may have had similar tables. They would be placed against the wall when not in use. Monticello’s dining room inspired well-to-do families to have homes that also had a dedicated dining room in them. This notion eventually spread to the middle class and lower-income families over the years.
By the 1950’s, it had become common practice for families to eat dinner together at the dining room table. People dressed nicely for dinner. The father would set at the head of the table. The mother would sit at the other end, and the children would be seated at the sides of the table. Conversation was as much a part of dinner as the food was. People were expected to limit their discussions to pleasant topics.
Today, some families continue to eat dinner together every night. Others eat dinner together while sitting in front of the TV. There are also families where everyone is on different schedules and who cannot eat dinner together every night.
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