It was the main meal of the day; it was normally eaten in the evening or at mid-day instead of luncheon (late lunch).
In France before the revolution dinner was eaten in the morning or mid-day. It is generally thought that as a word dinner is derived from the Latin word ‘disjunare’, which means to break the fast.
The word was originally used for the morning tea that was eaten after mass. First at 7 am and later at 9 or 10 am. It consisted of bacon, eggs and fish and was one of the two main meals of the day the other being supper. The hour for eating dinner became progressively later when the daily rite for mass was observed less strictly and in time the habit of light meal was developed. This meal ‘dejeuner’ later became ‘petite – dejeuner’ which means breakfast. Mid-day was the normal time for dinner. When one wanted to go and visit others, it was advisable to do so between 11 o’ clock and mid day and certainly not later for then one would be preventing them from taking their meals.
In the 18th century dinner was moved on to 2 pm. Supper remained as the principle meal of the day. Finally at the time of revolution dinner was eaten at the end of the afternoon, lunch was taken at mid-day.
Today dinner is usually takes place at 7 pm, earlier in Scandinavian countries and later in Mediterranean. It may be celebrated as a formal occasion for receiving guest.
Alexander Dumas defined dinner as the principal act of the day that can be only carried out in a worthy manner by people of wit and humor, for it is not just sufficient to eat at dinner. One has to talk with a calm and discreet gaiety. The conversation must sparkle like the rubies in the entremets of lines. It must be delightful with a sweet, dessert and become more profound with coffee.
According to Chef Denis, composition of a formal dinner must be varied and abundant, hot dishes must alternate the cold ones. For a big occasion he recommends consommé followed by a cold entrée, a large roast meat, a cold roast, vegetables, sweet, pastries and fruits.
This prescription is now simplified to consommé, fish served with a sauce, roast meat and accompaniment. Cheese may be avoided at dinner.
In the family household, the main meal of the day varies according to the working patter of the adult. Whether the evening meals consist of dinner or supper is very much of matter lifestyle, where both the adults work, dinner is likely to be an evening meal and lunch a light snack. Children at home may well be served a main meal at mid-day and the whole family may have dinner together. Although few people live close enough to their workplace and have someone at home to prepare dinner in a retired household, the main meal may also be lunch. It is also worth remembering the major social changes of 20th century greatly influenced the eating pattern. Meals are no longer subject to rigid definitions, eating pattern vary between weekdays and weekends and individual of family choices.