Family Dinner at Deerfield

Sit Down Dinner at Deerfield

Deerfield has a long standing tradition of the sit-down dinner.  

This was NOT a positive for our daughter when our family was considering boarding schools . . . in fact, it was a negative. She thought it was too formal, too contrived, too “much” . . . a deal killer. Being forced to sit at a table with random students she did not know? Not happening. That said . . . she was definitely looking for a sense of community on campus, an ideal we know now is central to Deerfield’s mission and identity and a big part of its success. She ultimately chose Deerfield as her school from a list of quite competitive schools (including her father’s alma mater)  because the students walking around campus were the happiest of all the schools she visited.

Her initial impression of the value of the sit-down dinner changed, almost immediately. She met new people, some who had never been in her class or her dorm, those who had extracurriculars different than hers, who had different interests than she did . . . and meet teachers who taught subjects or classes she would never take. Over time, she came to appreciate and enjoy the opportunities presented by Deerfield’s dinner tradition, deepening her understanding of how shared history and traditions contribute to a feeling of living in a supportive family environment. This, and it was actually fun!

Deerfield’s sit-down dinner tradition is one of the school’s most important customs. Seven times a week the entire DA community gathers for a family-style meal.

The round tables are made up of nine students and a faculty member (or two). Table rosters are random and rotate several times each term. Students have the opportunity to meet and converse with classmates and faculty members they might not have met elsewhere on campus. Attendance is required. Each sit-down meal is introduced by the Assistant Dean of Students with the words, “For food, for friendship, for the blessings of the day we give thanks. Amen.”

According to the DA Rules and Expectations Guidebook, Students “should exercise good manners” at the table. No one is allowed to eat until everyone at the table has been served. Food is passed around, rather than across the table. The person who finishes a dish is expected to refill it from the kitchen. The use of P’s & Q’s and no talking with your mouth full are also enforceable rules.

Students take turns (two table rotations per year) waiting tables for sit-down meals. A first waiter arrives 15 minutes before the meal to set the table and bring the family platters to the table. A second waiter is responsible for clearing the table. If the meal served is a particular favorite, there will be a student-initiated round of applause at the start of the meal. The DA community gives the Dining Staff a round of applause at the end of each term, as well.

There are a number of special sit-down meals during the year. The Holiday Dinner on the last Sunday before Thanksgiving break features beef Wellington and baked Alaska. During the last sit-down meal the seniors attend, buffalo chicken, a perennial student favorite, is served. Although the Choate Day Eve dinner is on a Friday, and therefore not a sit-down meal, this special “Pep-Dinner” always features pork dishes in honor of Choate’s hallowed mascot. In the past, whole roasted pigs and other pork dishes such as BBQ ribs, Asian pork belly, and pork Salisbury steak were featured.

After dinner, another cherished tradition plays out . . . the singing of the Evensong (see below for lyrics) with arms slung around each other.

Staging sit-down dinners for 600+ students is a monumental task. Switching up between walk-though buffets and the sit-down dinners each week involves significant behind the scene effort by our amazing Dining Hall staff. The dish crew must haul substantial wooden tables and chairs around the hall for each meal change-up. We are grateful for all of this effort!

Originally, every meal was a formal sit-down dinner at boarding schools. Deerfield is one of the few remaining schools to still offer family-style meals that bring the entire community together. Today, most boarding schools are buffet style for every meal. Choate offers an occasional community lunch. Speaking of Choate, I wonder what THEY serve on the eve of Deerfield Day?

The Deerfield Evensong

Words by Richard Warren Hatch
Music by Ralph Herrick Oatley

Far beyond each western mountain
Gleam the fires of dying day;
Softly from each hidden fountain
Flows the river on its way.
All the valley lies in splendor
Hushed before the coming night;
From a hundred ancient windows
Flashes back the sunset’s light.
Now the meadow-wind’s soft whisper
Stirs the old elm’s silhouette,
Bends each leafy tower above us,
Caught in evening’s dusky net.
Now the day is done with striving;
Let the heart hold memory bright;
Soon these halls and fields we’re leaving—
Raise we song before the night.
Let the circling night be softened
By the ember’s last faint glow;
In the firelight we will gather
Bound by song before we go.
Deerfield Days are days of glory,
Memory lives in every one;
Let no other name be spoken
Till the even-hour is done.