Growing up, if you are one of the lucky ones, there was a time in the day, in the week, or even in the month, that the family gathered around the table. A sort of routine that did not always mean much back then. It could have been the daily family dinner on the cozy kitchen table, the Sunday visit to grandparents or other relatives, the opening of your home to friends and family or the occasional social event… that wedding or baptism you were dressed up and dragged to.
At a later age, especially in Greece, these gatherings of loved ones around a table whether it is friends or family, become the pinnacle of the day. Inside a home or out, it is the point of contact and warmth you get from the people you cherish, the laughter, the gossips, the tastes, the aromas, the discoveries, the images, the sounds, the feelings that come with it.
“The table is a place of memory where we…become aware of who we are and with whom we are. Around the table, all previous meals come together in every meal, in an endless succession of memories and associations. The table is the place where the family gathers, the symbol of solidarity, or indeed the backdrop to family rows and childhood tragedies. At the table the eater is tamed.” Why We Eat Together, The Atlantic
In these challenging times we are going through, these often-casual gatherings, that we had taken for granted were suddenly and abruptly taken away. The seats on the table were drastically reduced and the given of togetherness was no longer a given but rather a present… a present you would look forward to like a kid on Christmas day. And as happens with many things, it is exactly then that its real value resurfaced.
But the coronavirus was not the only reason why people do not eat together anymore. It was more of a trigger to notice it. Late work hours, multiple stimuli, digital or other, hobbies, and so many more distractions have driven us away from the table and into eating on the go or not even having structured meals.
“There’s something about gathering around a physical table that unites us. No matter who you are, where you’re from and whether or not you recognize it, feasting together is something human beings were meant to do.” Christine Bailey, minno life
The table itself is so much more than just a piece of furniture, so much more that its decoration, and even more that the food. It is i think a symbolism of comming together, an expression of fellowship. It works as the means to bring families, friends old and new, into a common space and motivate them to share a conversation. However deep or shallow. Dining together offers not only food for the body, but also food for the soul. A safe haven to share news and challenges, happy faces to welcome thoughts, worries, grievances, understanding friends that let you just be.
“A study from the University of Oxford shows people who eat socially are more likely to feel better about themselves and have a wider social network. These networks provide social and emotional support.” Hillary Jackson, Caring Magazine In Greek this is what creates a “koinonia” a fellowship, a community, a state companionship, a state of unity.
I think that the importance of gathering around a table is exactly there… it is around it. It is in the feeling of companionship, the quick eye meets across it, the mother daughter eye roll, the hands that come together under it, the laughs that fill the air above it, the tingling of glasses that accompany the shared joys, the hums and awes of tasting the food on it, the memories that certain tastes bring to mind, the grudge that you cannot hold on to for long, the joy of the occasion that brought you to it, the feeling that you are there to listen and to be heard.
“How food is experienced has everything to do with the decor, with the rituals surrounding the meal, with the company, and with the experience.” Louise O. Fresco, The Atlantic
Now, what happens ON the table is a different story. I think the table itself is what sets the scene. It is what marks the occasion and what gives us a taste of what will follow. It is the care, the feelings, and the effort of those that brought us together. It is the culture, the unique characteristics, and a piece of our hosts heart. Around a table is where relationships are built, friendships grow, disputes are softened through taste and distances are diminished. Words, feelings, senses, all become tangled in a dance that is as exciting as it is unpredictable. Sounds familiar right? On the table is where the love and care of your hosts becomes a feast for not only your taste buds, but for your eyes as well.
But will gathering around a table ever be the same again?
I think it must be. It might not be the same in practical terms, but it must be… it must exist. Because those moments around a table instill in us so many qualities. We make memories, share experiences, learn the art of sharing and contributing, we feel a part of something, however big or small, it is there, when you are there, around a table.
That is exactly why for me, gathering around a table should always be a special occasion.