Sunday Dinners Are Sacred for African Americans

Though I moved away from the church, cooking on Sundays keeps me connected to my roots

Nneka M. Okona
ZORA
Published in
6 min readOct 25, 2019

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Illustration: Laci Jordan

AsAs a child growing up in the South, I knew that Sunday was a holy and reverent day set aside from all the rest. Each one began the same: stirring from a deep sleep early in the morning, when the faintest light from sunrise was starting to appear; showering and dressing with preapproved outfits per my mother; shuffling off to the family car and loading up with my three sisters, church bound.

Spending time in church was part of the fabric of what it meant to be a member of my family. Throughout my childhood, we flitted from churches and denominations, including Southern Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal, and Catholicism. Not spending the start of the week in the “house of the Lord” rarely happened, and when it did, it was as if life itself had been disrupted. But there was another vital part of Sunday other than the ritualistic churchgoing: Sunday dinner. No Sunday was complete without the ornate feast my mother planned and prepared, often with my help.

After we spent the earlier half of Sunday in church, fellowshipping among other Black believers while receiving the pastor’s sermon and musical selections from the choir, a light breakfast and quick nap set the stage for what was to come. I’d sleep too long, always, because waking up early for anything was a pain. And when I shook off the grogginess, I’d slink off to the kitchen to chip in with the tasks that needed to be completed to execute supper.

Memories like these I hold near and dear, as churchgoing is no longer a part of my life and hasn’t been for years. The religiosity that was once an integral core of my identity and how I rooted my life has given way to other forms of nurturing and grounding myself — meditating, doing yoga, pulling tarot cards, listening to my intuition. Sunday dinner, however, has not been something I’ve been able to let go of so easily.

MMore than a tradition that has transitioned into a steady ritual for many Black families, Sunday dinner has a storied history. Dating back to the days of chattel slavery, enslaved Africans saw food as more than sustenance, as it had always been before. Sunday arose as that sole day of…

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Nneka M. Okona
ZORA
Writer for

Heart-centered writer writing about travel, food, personal growth and self-discovery.