Prost! A Sente! Salute! Cheers! To your Health!
Ceremony is too often neglected in what has become a pretty unceremonious society we live in and our dinner tables reflect that. Some families of course still light a candle, say a thanks, a grace or a prayer before a meal, but as fewer people have these traditions, we have not done enough to cultivate a replacement.
Ritual is an important part of family bonding. Beginnings are an important part of ritual. Bill Doherty, the renowned family therapist, in his book The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties talks about the three phases of family rituals – the transitional phase, the enactment phase and the exit phase. He argues that our family dinners should have all three phases. “The transitional phase is used to move from everyday matters into ‘ritual space,’ where the sense of ceremony and connection are enhanced.” There are three things served here – marking the moment when we separate from the everyday, bringing some sense celebration, care and specialness to the table, and connecting with one another in a meaningful way.
It is for these three reasons that I am advocating the return of the toast. The toast is a non-religious but ceremonial way of leaving the day behind and marking the beginning our meal together, of celebrating, and of connecting…
It has become so hard to disconnect from the rest of the day, to shut off cell phones, computers, television, to put down the last bit of work that we wanted to finish before dinner. But it is important to mark the leaving of other things behind and intentionally starting the next moment together. The toast is that moment of transition.
Our country does not have a strong ethic for toasting – think of when we do honor toasting: Our weddings, formal dinners, and birthday or retirement parties – all times of celebration. It is not common at the weeknight dinner table. I would like to see that change – I would like to see celebration and ceremony a regular part of our day and the toast is a way of bringing that cheer – literally – into our meals.
As for connection, kids love clinking glasses and making a connection with everyone at the table. Nobody is left out and all are connected, one-to-one and all together through a toast. And that is an important part of it, it is a ritual connecting with everybody at the table – a special acknowledgement that we are all here, intentionally together.
At The Family Dinner Project we start every community dinner with a toast. Some of the kids from Lynn, MA, helped us write it, and it is the best way to bring us all together, focus the energy of the group and give start to the dinner.
For family, friends, everyone
For conversation and for fun
For those who helped prepare our food
We express our gratitude
Most of our toasts from around the world translate roughly into wishes for good health, much happiness, good luck or victory. Your toasts can include appreciation for the individuals at your table, honoring a special someone who we want to remember, thanks for something accomplished or hopes for a coming event. Whatever you do make it way of entering a new space, a space of celebration and of connection.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John is a father of two – Elijah (8) & Esme (5) – and the director of The Family Dinner Project, a grassroots movement of food, fun and conversation about things that matter based in Watertown, MA. John is a professional mediator and dialogue facilitator who spends much of his time leading conversations with parents and families about the opportunities and challenges of family dinners.
[Photo credit: (cc) Dinner Series]