Saturday, January 20, 2024

The Surprising Origins of the Sunday-Dinner Tradition

Whether pot roast, baked chicken, or a simple stew bubbles in the pot, Sunday dinner is not so much about food as family and friends. This well-loved tradition is as American as apple pie, right?

The Surprising Origins of the Sunday-Dinner Tradition

Yes—and no. The practice actually originated centuries before the United States declared its independence, during the reign of King Henry VII. The Brits consumed a lot of meat back then. Now, Americans love a good steak, but the English appetite for beef was (please pardon the pun) a cut above. It earned them the national nickname of “Roast Beefs” from the French. The royal bodyguards became known as “Beefeaters,” a title they retain today, in the 15th Century.

Two theories exist on the British Sunday roast tradition. It either originated in the late 1400s or the late 1700s, depending on who you believe.

The first theory states that in medieval England, village serfs who served their squire six days each week could take Sundays off for church. Afterwards, they engaged in war games and feasted on an oxen roasted on a spit. A variation of this holds that after attending Sunday services, medieval English villagers would congregate around large communal ovens to roast meat (usually oxen) they’d hunted during the week. The villagers lacked large enough fireplaces to do this at home. Once the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century introduced enclosed ovens into homes, Sunday roast dinner took a more intimate form.

The second theory places the origin sometime after 1760, during the British industrial revolution. Before church, families could start a roast in the oven early, and then add in vegetables on their way out the door. This worked much like our modern slow cookers. They returned home to find dinner waiting and time to enjoy one another.

Whichever opinion is correct, it’s fun to continue this centuries-old tradition.

Gathering for Sunday dinner has become somewhat challenging in today’s far-flung world. No matter how few chairs are around the table, taking the time and trouble to reconnect with loved ones is always worthwhile. Cherishing our families and ourselves on Sunday creates peaceful interludes, which is all the more important in the hostile world in which we live.

I’ve recently begun following this tradition myself. Sometimes there are only two chairs at the table, but my husband and I still enjoying spending special time together. If you’d like to start or revive the Sunday-dinner tradition in your own household, let me know in the comments. Taste of Home features a collection of vintage recipes for Sunday dinners that look pretty amazing.

What’s New with Janalyn Voigt

Getting back to work after so much time off during the holidays is difficult, but I’m gaining momentum. If you also have trouble with transition, I’d love to know how you counter the inertia after a vacation. Or do you come back, recharged and raring to go? In December, we went to Leavenworth with family. If you don’t know, the town was remodeled by its residents to look like an alpine village in Bavaria. This was a tourist move, and it worked out. Leavenworth now draws upwards of a million international tourists per year. Not too shabby for a town that began as a frigid mountain community named “Icicicle.” This week, I’m moving back into regular office hours and am working on an editing project for a publisher. I’ll also plan future writing projects. It’s a time of prayer for direction. 

Learn more about Janalyn Voigt.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today, and Happy New Year to you and your family. Our holiday celebrations tend to be spread over a couple of weeks, and we have a small family so we don't get too crazy. Plus, our daughter lives four hours away, which is a trip that takes some thought and planning. But I do understand it can be hard to get back into the routines of life. Sunday dinner sounds great, but I truly wish someone else could cook!