Preparing for the Nativity

Preparing fro the NativityOne subject that can get people talking is fasting. Whether asking for a new recipe, wondering how to fast with kids, or seeking support from anyone else who has been living off of PB & J’s too, there is always lively conversation regarding the subject. And of course there are always the more serious questions about fasting.

With the Philip’s Fast upon us we are going to share some of our own fasting experiences both the failures and wins, and the way that we prepare for the Nativity feast.  I have been reluctant to write about fasting, cause you know what I hear in my head whenever I think of writing about this? Jesus–warning us to fast, pray, and do good deeds in secret! But I realize we do fast together as a Church and conversation and encouragement among one another can be good. However, fasting is also very personal. We each respond to the invitation to prepare for the Nativity differently and with good reason. It is personal also because it is meant to be one way to further our relationship with God and each other — and this is always personal. Having said that, what we are sharing has been our own personal response to the invitation to prepare for Christmas throughout the years.

First, since some of our readers are from the Roman church let me explain how a large portion of the Eastern churches prepare for Christmas. We often call the season of Advent the Nativity Fast, the Philip’s Fast (because it begins on Nov. 15th the day after the feast of the Apostle Philip) or simply the Fast. It lasts 40 days and is a season that is not about keeping rules like a Pharisee, but a time to grow closer to God by preparing our hearts with the ancient Christian tools of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

The Fast: The ideal is a vegan diet with fish, wine, and oil allowed for the first half of the fast. This is the fast that monastics keep. The ideal is meant to be something to strive after and not a burden that is too hard to carry. Abbot Nicholas of HRM has always said, “Aim high and do what you can.” We have learned over the years that it takes an act of humility to know and do just what you can and not make everyone miserable in the process of fasting or worse, become proud of one’s fasting efforts and miss the entire point.

We have certainly kept the fast to different degrees throughout the years. In the beginning when we had only one child and all the zeal of newbies, we kept the fast strictly. I remember feeling that we couldn’t “mess up” in anyway or we may as well throw in the towel and forget it. We were also label readers (“Whey? Is that a dairy product in this bread?”). The focus was far too much on food and we missed the point in the beginning, but it is all a part of growing and was a part of our journey. We learned that fasting (even perfectly) without prayer is dieting, and without charity, is pointless.

We have kept the fast strictly since those early years, without the legalistic attitude.  It can certainly be done and is the ideal to strive after. One of the points of fasting is to simplify life, spend less time cooking (or at least certainly not more), less time eating, and worrying about food to make time for extra prayer and extra acts of charity.

Most years because we have a large family with varied ages, fasting vegan is very hard. I have found it is rather expensive to eat healthy and decently with the kids and I refuse to spend more money on food when we really should be spending less. I also have a house full of picky eaters and do not want fasting times to be miserable and times that they will look back on and remember as miserable! Having 8 (soon to be 9) children, I have many times been pregnant during fasting periods.

So what have we done over the years? Kept things simple. We don’t eat fancy, expensive meals and usually we eat the same things week after week. We cut meat out and eat a vegetarian diet. When I am pregnant, we will have some meat or I’ll make meat just for myself and the little ones. We don’t eat desserts, have sodas, or any other rich foods. To keep myself out of the kitchen less I make a lot of egg scrambles for the protein (something the kids will eat with no problem). We are all sick of eggs when the fast is over but that’s okay. I have no problem (I would’ve cringed at the thought of this in the beginning) with breaking the fast if needed. Sometimes I need to be charitable to the family and give them a “burger break” when everyone starts getting too grumpy and is focusing on the lack of something yummy to eat. Again, I want to get everyone to think of food less and spend more time praying and doing good deeds.  I don’t make things or buy things that are a substitute for what we are fasting from as I think that misses the point. We don’t have to be miserable during this time but the spirit of the fast is far more important than keeping the rules; this I have learned from experience over many years now. I prefer to be honest with myself and break the fast instead of going through the trouble of making a vegan substitute that legally keeps the fast but tastes so much like what we are fasting from that no one minds.  Again, everyone responds to the invitation of fasting differently and for many good reasons.

I must add in two more things. First, spiritual guidance should be sought when fasting. We have been doing this for so long now that we don’t sit down with the priest and discuss it before every fast, but in the early years we did and the guidance was absolutely needed. Second, fasting times are also times of abstinence in the church for married couples. Again, this is the ideal – aim high and do what you can. This isn’t because sex (or food) is something tainted or bad but because Jesus Christ is greater and we prepare ourselves by fasting from lesser goods to make room in our hearts and lives for the greatest gift of all. Couples should agree on these matters and this should be a time of spiritual strengthening between husband, wife, children, and the Church as a whole. We are certainly no experts but this is how we handle the fasting portion of preparation for feasts.

Prayer: As I said above, the fasting should make room for prayer. And not just by freeing up time but also by making us hungry. During the Nativity Fast, the Church wants us to place ourselves in the time before the Savior was born, when the whole world hungered for Him. Our prayer should reflect this–a longing for the Messiah. Not being completely content in our bellies can aid in this longing for something that food alone could never fulfill.

During this preparation season we try to be extra vigilant with our normal family prayer time. I make an extra effort to encourage the kids to remember to pray the Jesus Prayer throughout the day and give the older kids a religious book to read in their spare time (I do the same things for myself). We often cut out T.V. except for religious movies. I am planning on adding this Akathist to our prayers once a week. There is also a moleben that could be said at home or church. The point is make time to pray–alone and as a family. We cut out the T.V. to make room for more silence in the house, our minds, and hearts (this aids in prayer). Our prayer lives have varied and changed over the years. The point is to pray, decide what you can reasonably strive after then stick to it as best as you can. This is another area where spiritual direction is important.

Almsgiving: Just like fasting aids prayer, prayer should also lead us to almsgiving or acts of charity. This is the whole point of the Christian life – to lead us to love. At home I remind the kids (and myself) to try harder to be kind to each other, to look for opportunities to help someone out, and to pray extra for whomever they choose because that is the point of all this fasting and praying business–acts of love.  In the past we have chosen a charity or someone in need to help out. Sending presents to orphans, or school supplies oversees for example. The kids always use some of their own money for whatever cause we choose.

I am writing an article for Catholic Exchange that will explain some more about how we prepare for Christmas regarding traditions and some encouragement on keeping the fasting period when most everyone else is already celebrating Christmas too darn early! So keep an eye out for it and please keep our family in your prayers this season!

 

 

 

 

 

5 Comments

  1. Food is a central way that we interact with those around us and engage our culture and vegan fasting makes this a challenge. I find that’s the hardest thing, more difficult than keeping the fast is just not excluding others or being excluded. I’ve been thinking about how to make it less of a challenge to have others over during this time so I’ve found coffee and vegan dessert is the best way. What do you all do?

    • Jessica Archuleta says:

      Sorry Melissa,for some reason this was in the spam folder! I just saw it.

      You bring up a good point. Fasting is not something most people are doing this time of year. As far as being included in other people’s events, we have always been taught to eat what you’re given. We don’t want to draw attention to our fasting efforts and the charitable thing to do is eat what we are offered when we are guests somewhere.

      Having people over to your own home can be a bit of a challenge. I guess who the guests are and what the event is will make a difference on what you serve. I’ve served vegan meals to people without them realizing it was a meal I made because we were fasting. Vegetarian meals are even easier to serve. And I’ve made non fasting meals during fasting period if it was something someone requested or I knew they would enjoy and they don’t fast themselves. In past years fasting periods aren’t times I purposely invite guests over who are not also fasting. But when family or friends have come to town or something comes up I’ve handled it different ways. Always believing that being hospitable is just as important as keeping the fast.

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