My mind has been entrenched in Christmas. The irony of that is not lost on me at all. If you ever talk to me in the latter half of any given year, you’ll soon learn that I have a strong distaste for how our culture handles Christmas. The commercialism, the emptiness…no, the absolute barrenness of the “celebration” is maddening and saddening. Americans ache for a feast day, and they just don’t know it.
The Church gives a calendar of feasts and fasts to fulfill our God-given needs for rhythm, but in a land where the Church is little known and much rejected, the wisdom of centuries is replaced with meager substitutes like three day holiday weekends and white sales. Celebrating is fun, and if you can use it as a reason to shop or stuff a stomach, that’s even better! This small taste of feast is recognized as pleasant and wets the appetite, so what do Americans do? Make it even bigger and start it even earlier of course! We put out decorations for any holiday months in advance (and leave them up months after). We cram our homes with even more stuff for the sake of stuff and wonder at the void it leaves after the celebration is over. Since the reason for the feast never really touched or transformed our lives, but was instead just a mere decoration, we feel empty and hungry for more. That definitely doesn’t feel good, so it’s on to the next holiday. The next reason to consume. The next chance to attempt to fill the yawning hole.
The Church’s plan for feasting eliminates this void. First of all, there’s always something worth celebrating! Not in name only, but as part of life. We Orthodox recognize the history of God and His Saints as our own history. There are reasons to glory and celebrate God in each day and each moment. Feasts are a reminder and reality of that Truth.
This month has been a classic example of the Orthodox approach to feasting. We started with the Nativity of the Theotokos on September 8th. A joyous day. A day to celebrate the Mother of God, for through her birth the Incarnation was made possible. Mary is here! Rejoice, for He is coming!
The Nativity of the Theotokos was easily one of the busiest days I’ve had in a long time. We started out by going to church, and then it got crazy. Run here, run there. Run, run, run. Not at all how I like to spend a feast day. When dinner time rolled around, the last thing on earth I wanted to do was prepare the special meal I had planned. Peanut butter and jelly and applesauce never looked so appealing. We definitely could have rejoiced over the Theotokos’ birth without a nice meal and dessert, but in that moment, making that meal was extremely important to me. I didn’t want that day to be just a shadow of every other day. I didn’t want to allow the busyness and craziness of this world to win. I wanted my family to simply celebrate and be in the moment of feasting. That created more work and a final push for me, but it was worth it. It was an offering to my family and God to end a crazy day around the table with joy and love for the Mother of God filling the air.
Just shy of a week later, on September 14th, we had a very different kind of celebration. The Elevation of the Cross is one of only two feast days in the year that are a strict fast. It is still a celebration, but it is not a party. It also is a birthday of sorts, a change from death to life. It is more sober, but it is still a day dripping with joy. Again, we went to church in the morning, and I did every thing in my power to make the day peaceful. I always like to get outside in nature on a feast day, so we did that. We came home and were quiet, which in our family means no electronics allowed. We turned off the computer and T.V. We didn’t cook a thing. Rather, we gathered around the table as a family and ate simple, fasting foods. We played Scrabble. Joy and love still filled the air. Life was a feast. One the world just does not understand.
So, after enjoying these feasts, I move on…to Christmas. I’m preparing resources for the shop. Next Friday, I’ll begin putting up craft kits for ornaments and other goodies. I’ll be adding things throughout October. It’s been odd and a bit funny to go shopping for Christmas in September. I was even severely annoyed at my favorite craft store for not putting out all their supplies early enough. I had to laugh at myself over that one.
Planning ahead has made me even more appreciative of the cycle, though. It has made the time joyous. A feast is not only a day. The Church’s feasts are so fulfilling, because we prepare for them. We fast, we contemplate, we WAIT. There is no void or barrenness. There is not letdown. It is the joy of the feast that fills life. It is the joy that bubbles up and over every day. It is the joy of God in all things, in all places. In this moment, and the next, and the next, and the next…