Whatever Happened to “Supper”?
First of all, no matter how many jokes Brandon, Lisa and Joanna like to make about my age, I’m not really all that ancient. They are Millennials and I’m Gen X. I didn’t grow up in the Depression Era (although “Depression Era” kind of sums up my teenage years).
When I was a kid this was how the daily meals were designated: breakfast, dinner and supper. By the time I got into grade school I’d begun to refer to the midday meal as “lunch” because we had a “lunch room” not a “dinner room” at school and also because all the other kids called it “lunch” and made fun whenever I said “dinner”. But my mom and dad and grandparents stayed with the breakfast-dinner-supper system.
I guess I chalked it up to my family being rural or just weird (they were both) and never thought about it much after that. Then, a week ago, I accidentally reverted and used “supper” in conversation. Before I knew it, it was out and I got snide comments. It was like being in 1st grade all over again.
You can check out all of those links if you want to but here’s the gist of what I discovered.
So, until fairly recently, “dinner” referred to the midday meal and “supper” referred to the evening meal. “Supper” originally meant “evening meal”. That’s why churches have “The Lord’s Supper” and not “The Lord’s Dinner”. “Dinner” has traditionally meant the largest meal of the day which MAY make you think that “dinner” is the evening meal. Ah, ha! Except that the evening meal wasn’t always the biggest meal. For most of history, especially when most people worked an agrarian lifestyle on farms, the midday meal was the biggest meal of the day. You’d work in the field in the morning and come inside around noon when the heat would be at its worst. You’d eat the largest meal you were going to have, “dinner”. Then, you’d return to the fields, work until the sun began to go down and then return home where you would have a lighter meal, “supper”, before bedtime. This whole “stay out of the sun when it’s the hottest” philosophy is also where the Spanish tradition of “siesta” got started. I guess it was so hot in Spain, Mexico and South America that staying inside for a meal wasn’t enough. You also had to lay down for a nap which sounds AMAZING.
Gradually, with the Industrial Revolution and more and more people going to work in factories rather than on farms, coming back home in the middle of the day wasn’t feasible so people would take a light meal to work and then have the big meal when they got back home in the evening. So, “dinner” was still the big meal of the day, they just started having it at night instead of at midday. UNLESS…
…you didn’t get a job in the town or city and continued to work a rural agrarian schedule, which is what MY FAMILY DID RIGHT UP UNTIL 1956 when my dad got a job in a factory. So, calling the midday meal “dinner” was just a hold-over from when he was a kid. I heard HIM call “lunch” “dinner” so often that sometimes I still do it today. Funnily enough, I can remember asking my grandfather, who was a farmer his whole life, what time “lunch” was. I now realize that the disdainful look on his face was because the word “lunch” sounded exceedingly effete and “city-fied” to him. It’s the kind of the look I give when I hear a millennial talk about “selfies” and (shudder) “a living wage”.