The holidays are coming, and at many Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings across America, the children will be relegated to the children’s table. There, unsupervised, they can blow bubbles through the straw in their glass of apple juice and even get into food fights, but almost every child sitting at every children’s table would give up the freedom to misbehave and the relative freedom and comfort of the children’s table for the prestige of being seated at the grown-ups’ table.

 

Although our Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings were small and lacked a children’s table, once a year my father’s extended family got together for a big feast. It was then that I got to know the indignity of being seated at the children’s table in my uncle’s huge apartment’s spacious foyer while the adults ate at the massive table in the enormous dining room.

 

Most of the other children squabbled, displayed their worst manners, and generally were no joy to break bread with. I longed for the sanctity of the grown-ups’ table in the dining room, where the conversation might be boring but the decorum was much more pleasing and the prestige was beyond question.

 

The food was better at the adult table, too. I had culinary tastes way above my age level and longed to taste the more exotic fare that the grown-ups got to savor.

 

But oh—when I reached teenhood, I was finally privileged to join the adults. It was more than just a step up, more than just a new privilege accessed. It was—as I believe it is for kids across America—a rite of passage. Joining the adult table means no squirming or fidgeting, having to put on your best table manners, and of course not interrupting the grown-ups’ conversation unless they address you. But the transition is worth it for what it proves: that you are slowly but surely growing up, that you have reached another milestone, another level, in your quest for recognized maturity.

As surely as first communion or bar mitzvah, as surely as quinceañera or sweet sixteen, joining the adults’ table for the first time on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or another festive family occasion marks an undeniable step up, a rite of passage, a steppingstone to adulthood. And this year, as always, countless offspring will savor the delicious words, “You can sit at the adult table this year.”

It’s a special moment. They’ll know their progress toward adulthood has been duly noted. They have arrived.