Introducing the Young to Sacramental Drinking

Drinking Wine

Last week we discussed the perils of college drinking and the responses of Catholic colleges to it. This week, let’s continue our discussion on more positive ways to engage the problem. I have one bold suggestion: Start early and under parental supervision.

One of our blog’s readers last week recommended “bending the law” and introducing one’s children to the moderate use of alcohol at the dinner table. Actually, in many states, this is not bending the law at all but in perfect conformity with it.

The advantage of “drinking early” is twofold. First, it teaches young people to pair alcohol with food and to drink in moderation; its sets a model for the right use of alcohol and cultivates a good habit that can last a lifetime.

Second, it de-stigmatizes alcohol, removing it from the category of a forbidden fruit or an adolescent symbol of rebellion and placing it in the category of a virtuous and even pious life. Such a sensibility will go a long way in instilling a healthy attitude towards alcohol. I am told that the ethnic-religious group with the lowest rate of alcoholism is the world is Orthodox Jews, and that the more secular and less observant the Jewish person, the greater the likelihood of alcohol abuse. Are Orthodox Jews teetotalers? Not at all: wine is an important religious element of their diet. And precisely because of this, wine does not have a “naughty” or rebellious connotation the way that it might for a Southern Baptist.


An ultra-Orthodox Jew pours wine for worshippers during Purim.

Similarly, while the United States has an alcoholism rate of 5.5%, Italy has an alcoholism rate of only .5%. Again, it is hardly the case that Italians refrain from drinking; on the contrary, they drink all the time, but they do not drink to excess. To this day, when you see a drunk walking the streets of Italy, it is most likely an American tourist.

italian family

An Italian family enjoys wine with their pasta.

Now I am not saying that you should give Junior a stiff martini after a long day at kindergarten, but watered down wine or small sips of Dad’s beer might be appropriate for at least the older kids. (A priest friend of mine once wisely suggested that I give my children small servings of wine mixed with water every time a priest came for dinner, so they would associate a priest’s visit with a festive treat.) You may want to wait until your offspring are around the age of 21 to introduce them to cocktails, which require special skill in consuming rightly. And when initiating your older children into the fine art of appreciating good whiskey (scotch, bourbon, Irish), focus on educating their palate so that they will become sipping snobs rather than shot-slamming sots.

At the very least, children should be able to grow up in a household where they can observe their parents consuming alcohol in a responsible and pious manner. Proper role models are crucial. Let them see firsthand “sacramental drinking,” drinking in moderation and with gratitude for the goodness of God’s creation.

Instilling good habits and a healthy attitude towards alcohol sooner rather than later may not be a cure-all for college drinking, but it is more likely to produce mature students who are less likely to be attracted to the typically destructive drinking culture on college campuses.

Addendum #1, added a day later: Here is a fascinating personal testimony from a reader on Facebook. Thank you for sharing!

When I last went to Spain with Guillermo (now 17) he was three. Children drink milk or watered down wine with supper. So he got to taste it while there. When we got back to the States and went to a restaurant for the first time and the waitress asked what the child would like to drink with supper, he confidently piped up and said, “yo quiero vino!” (I want wine). The woman nearly fell over! I had to explain we were just back from Spain and how children drink watered down wine. She was appalled. As a child, we grew up allowed to take sips of my dad or mom’s drink during supper too. None of my sisters nor I ever had a drinking problem in college (most common) and couldn’t understand drinking for fun. So I agree 100%.