i have a very tiny obsession with napkins right now, so i've done a very tiny bit of research about them. i do believe that any amount--even a very tiny bit--of research into napkins indicates some level of obsession, because who thinks about napkins, really?
since i'm interested in ritual these days, i fell down a napkin-rituals-rabbit hole. and here's what i learned:
- see the tablecloth swagging down in front of the table in this painting of the lord's supper? that's the napkin. it's a communal napkin for everyone to use. and according to this blogger's first generation italian mother, the communal napkin stuck around for awhile, at least in italian families. she remembers growing up with a mopina at the table, "a communal dish towel set on table used by all greasy hands young and old." in our hand-sanitizer-tastic society, i'm not real sure the communal napkin is gonna make a comeback. we are too germ-conscious to be truly communal.
- even when napkins made the move to individual, they used to be huge because eating was a messy, tactile endeavor. then, along came the fork in the seventeenth century. suddenly, eating became a neat, polite affair, and napkins got much smaller. we traded fun and immediacy for refinement and politesse.
- and finally, it seems there was a time in roman civilization in which, if you were invited to dinner, you brought your own napkin. yep, b.y.o.n. and when the meal was over, these roman napkin-bringers just wrapped up leftovers in their napkins and took them on home. next time you spy your great aunt slipping a napkin full of wedding cookies in her purse, know she has history on her side. these days, we use styrofoam and plastic containers with all kinds of toxic crap in them when often a cloth napkin would do just as well. sigh. we make things so complicated.
napkins: who knew they had so much to say?