What is Supper?

Malcolm Tatum

In most cultures, supper is a designation that is used to refer to a meal that takes place in the late afternoon or early evening. While the exact use of the word may refer to a type of meal as well as to the time of day that the meal is served, there is no uniform usage of supper throughout the world. The use of supper is often considered to be primarily in cultures where the use of English has become common as a primary or secondary language, although the origins of the word are usually associated with the French language.

Late meals may be referred to as "dinner" in other parts of the country.
Late meals may be referred to as "dinner" in other parts of the country.

There is one school of thought that identifies supper as being the English version of the French word souper. Others trace the origin of the English supper to the German word suppe. In both the French and German context, the words are associated with soup and are usually considered to be a designation for the last meal of the day, regardless of whether the meal is before or after nightfall.

Supper is typically a large meal that is prepared in the late afternoon or early evening.
Supper is typically a large meal that is prepared in the late afternoon or early evening.

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In various countries where English is the primary language, the use of supper is often used in a number of different ways. This is not only true in terms of different usages in different countries, but may also include difference in usage in various regions within a country. The term may also be used interchangeably with other designations for the last meal of the day.

A larger, mid-day meal would give farmers energy for a day of hard work, with a lighter supper leaving them less full before an early bedtime.
A larger, mid-day meal would give farmers energy for a day of hard work, with a lighter supper leaving them less full before an early bedtime.

In the United States, supper can mean something different in various parts of the country. In the South, supper is usually used to refer to the evening meal when it is served in the home and among family members. The meal is usually somewhat light, and may be composed mainly of leftovers from the mid-day meal. When the last meal of the day is more formal and includes guests, it may be referred to as dinner rather than supper. However, this is not a uniform practice either, since dinner is used in many parts of the South to refer to the mid-day meal known in other localities as lunch.

In many European societies, the most important meal of the day is the mid-day meal.
In many European societies, the most important meal of the day is the mid-day meal.

For many years in the Heartland of the United States, supper referred to the meal that took place around nightfall. Much of this was due to the fact that farming influenced a great deal of the culture. The most important meal of the day was the mid-day meal, as it allowed farmers to generate energy to work in the fields through the heat of the afternoon. Supper would be a lighter meal that would often include foods that were not likely to keep the individual awake, since members of the farming community would often retire for the evening shortly after supper.

In other parts of the country, late meals may be referred to as dinners or suppers, depending on local custom. Around the world, the ideal time for a late meal or late dinner can be anywhere between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Supper is rarely considered to be the most important meal of the day, since it occurs closer to bedtime than any other meal.

The most famous supper of all time is undoubtedly The Last Supper, an event that is chronicled in the New Testament of the Christian Scriptures. It is this event that many Christians utilized as the basis for their observance of the Lord’s Supper, known as Communion, the Eucharist and several other designations throughout various Christian denominations.

Supper usually includes items from several food groups.
Supper usually includes items from several food groups.

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