THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 15: Christmas tunes are jingling and holiday displays are in full flower in stores nationwide. Some early bell ringers already are raising money for charity. But the Christian Church hasn’t officially come into the Christmas season yet—until today, that is, when the Eastern Orthodox Church begins the Nativity Fast.
For the next 40 days, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians will fast from red meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fish, oil and wine. There are some exceptions, particularly on feast days that fall during the fast. (Wikipedia has details). The culmination of the fast comes on the Eve of Nativity, when devotees abstain from all solid foods until the first star is seen in the evening sky. On the Feast of the Nativity—Christmas Day—the fast is broken, and great communal feasting is welcomed with joy.
One of the oldest practices among world religions, fasting is also seen throughout the Bible. Christians are taught that fasting should be performed in joy and spiritual reflection and not as a form of punishment. The Nativity Fast is an exceptionally joyous fast in the Orthodox Church, as its regulations are less strict than those of other fasts—such as the fast of Great Lent. By fasting, the faithful anticipate the release of human passions and vices so that they might better understand God and their relationship with Him. (Learn more from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.)
NOTE ON CALENDAR VARIATIONS: Orthodox churches that use the Julian calendar begin the Nativity Fast on Nov. 28, as their Christmas falls 13 days later Dec. 25, on Jan. 7, 2013.
EXTRA! EXTRA! NATIVITY NEWS
In an early announcement to retailers, Warner Brothers recently broke news that “The Nativity Story” will be released for Blu-ray this spring, on March 5. Although the release date won’t be before Christmas 2012, copies of the 2006 film in this higher definition format can be pre-ordered now .
Christians in search of a “real” Nativity experience can book tickets now to Livermore, California, where parishioners at St. Michael’s Catholic Church have been working for months to create a 35,000 square-foot Bethlehem. (Mercury News has the story.) In what began almost four years ago, a an architect and contractor belonging to the church began creating a three-dimensional model of Bethlehem, presenting it to the mayor, talking with nonprofits and raising more than $50,000. Beginning Dec. 13, anyone is welcome to visit The Living Bethlehem—free of charge—where more than 100 actors will be bringing to life the birthplace of Christ, complete with a period-era market, Roman guards and livestock. (Check out a photo slideshow of the process, also courtesy of the Mercury News.) Auditions are currently being held for the roles of Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men and baby Jesus.