When I visited Pompeii in Italy, I was amazed by the ruins left standing. It was incredible to see the technology and inventions the ancient Italians developed and how that inspired technology today. I looked at the ruins and imagined what they looked like before the collapse, as told by our tour guide.
Out of all the artifacts, I loved the dining table. As you see in my photo here, it doesn’t look like the tables we have today. It looks like there’s not even a table. Romans used to eat lounging back, leaning on cushions. That small circle in the middle was where they would put their platter.
Some Table and Dining History
The word table is derived from the Latin tabula, which literally means plank, board, or flat piece. Although many types of tables had been around since ancient times, they were not the dining room tables we know today.
Today our dining rooms are open concept near our kitchens. Historically the dining room and kitchen were usually on a different floor and sometimes even in a separate building. This was because kitchens didn’t have proper ventilation and tended to get extremely hot and were sometimes the cause of house fires.
Tables in the Middle Ages were portable and very long. They were made to seat everyone in the castle in the Great Hall, a large, multi-functional room that could accommodate the castle’s residents. Tables became smaller when noblemen and women wanted intimate gatherings in smaller spaces.
Our tables today see small and large gatherings every day. Everyone has different traditions surrounding the table, and we are all tied together by the different foods we create, and our customs for food etiquette. In Japan, they tend to sit on the floor around a Chabudai, a short-legged table. In India, food is typically eaten with the hands, specifically the right hand.
I love experiencing culture and traditions from around the world. In our own homes, I can’t help but think about all the different traditions we have for how we gather at a table and share a meal together.
My Dining Table Traditions
Something more about me is that my family is a Cuban and Mexican mix. Our traditions stem from those of my grandparents and their grandparents. Every tradition is always honored and changed to fit the family and situation.
When my dad’s family served a meal, everyone had to finish everything on their plates. However, on my mom’s side, she was given whatever meal she wanted since her parents just wanted to ensure she ate something. Now, my parent’s method is to cook us something we all like and request that we eat as much as we can (it’s usually chicken and fries).
Food is always set in the kitchen, where we pray before serving ourselves. We take our plate to the dining table next to the kitchen and eat together. After we’re done, either myself or one of my siblings does the dishes.
I love hearing what traditions other families have, especially during the holidays. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, we set up two long folding tables to go along with our dining table. We usually have about 15 additional people joining us, including our immediate family and our family friends.
Our holidays have reached 25 to almost 30 people. Because of our Abuela, we tend to welcome more than just family to this meal. She has always reached out to those in our church or neighbors who might not have anywhere to go. This kind tradition has been passed down to my siblings and me. I’ve invited some of my college peers from out of state over to celebrate with us.
My Dining Table Stories
Our tables house so many stories. Each scratch, dent, or chip has something to tell. Looking at my table, I see all of the birthdays, game nights, and family dinners that have happened throughout my life.
Aside from the holiday memories, three stories come to mind when I think about my dining table.
- Turning 23
This is my most recent story as I just turned 23 this past May 9th. Yes, I had a quarantine birthday and didn’t have high expectations for a celebration.
Earlier that week, we celebrated my God-nephew’s birthday with a big parade drive-by, so I didn’t want to make the whole family come out again for another one. I decided to do a Zoom call of my cake cutting so all of my family, especially those from out of state, could celebrate with me.
My mom decorated the table and got me balloons and a small version of my favorite kind of cake (yellow cake with chocolate frosting). I set up my laptop to see family I usually wouldn’t be able to on my birthday, and we were all able to reconnect and visit.
I was so grateful for everyone staying, chatting, and having a drink with me, rather than just singing Happy Birthday and ending the call. We enjoyed each other’s company just as we would’ve in person. I was laughing nonstop at Abuela trying to get Zoom to work and everyone talking all at once. I felt so blessed to just sit there for an hour and bring everyone together for some normalcy during an abnormal time.
2. Coming Home
In 2015, I was about to be a senior in high school and was accepted as a youth ministry leader. We were required to go away on a week-long retreat camp to a remote campground called Tecaboca in south Texas. I’m not much of an outdoorsy person and dislike any and all creepy crawlies, but I loved this trip.
I spent a week with my friends (see photo below) and other teens from around the country to become closer to Christ. It was refreshing to meet other like-minded peers who were also leaders of their schools. We all learned what it was to be a youth leader and developed as individuals and a group.
After a week of being away, I returned home, and my dad picked me up at the airport around midnight. I was starving so we picked up some fast food and brought it home. The whole house was dark except for the light above the dining table, where I sat with my food and my father. He had just come from a crazy KISS concert and was telling me about it as I ate.
My mom and siblings woke up hearing us talking and came to sit with us at the table. I shared my retreat experience, telling them how I killed a poisonous scorpion that was in my bed (true and terrifying story). We sat around our table until about 3 am talking and sharing in the darkness of our home. All I saw were the smiling faces of my family.
3. Friend Reunion
It was weird graduating from high school and not seeing my friends every day like I used to. After only a year of being in college, we wanted a reunion. We planned a game day at my house, followed by dinner at a South Florida landmark restaurant called Jaxson’s.
All of my friends (see photo above) came over with their favorite games. We gathered around my table and had so many options to play. We started sharing how we were doing and ended up not playing anything really, and just talked the afternoon away. Now we always meet up at least once a year, but that was our first reunion, and it was so special.
There are so many memorable stories around our dining tables. Some bring us joy, and some bring us sadness, like the time my little brother rammed his head into the corner of the table. This simple tabula, or flat surface, harbors so many memories and stories of generations passed. What stories would your table share?