The Christmas Fast Guidelines
The Holy Canons specify the following guidelines:
Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays & Sundays to December 12:
• Abstinence of: Meat & Meat Products, Dairy Products
• No abstinence of: Fish, Shellfish, Vegetables &
Vegetable Products, Olive Oil; Fruit, wine
these days there is no regulation of the number of meals or
quantity of food taken:
Wednesdays & Fridays, and all weekdays
• Abstinence of: Meat & Meat Products, Dairy Products,
fish, Olive Oil, Wine
• No abstinence of: Shellfish, Vegetables & Vegetable
Wednesdays and Fridays, food should not be eaten between meals,
and meals themselves should be moderate in quantity. It is
often customary to eat only one meal a day. During the Christmas
Fast, from December 13 to December 24 inclusive, the Fast
becomes stricter, and olive oil and wine are permitted only
on Saturdays and Sundays. Fish is not permitted from the 13th
to the 24th.
Sense of the Christmas Fast in America Today
the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches, the period from
November 15 through December 24 is a period of Fasting, Abstinence,
and Preparation for the Great-Feast of the Nativity of Christ.
One of the four major fasts of the year, it is variously called
the Nativity Fast, the Christmas Lent, or the Philipine Fast
(since it begins the day after the feast of St. Philip).
No matter what it is called, however, it is one of most difficult
fast periods for people living in the Western world to keep.
The pre-Christmas period in America is generally one of parties,
social events and general excess. How is the Orthodox Christian
to follow the Tradition of his Church, but also live in his
of the difficulty lies in our society's inability to understand
the necessity of anticipation and waiting. We are so used
to instant soup, instant replays, and instant gratification,
that the concept of pre-paring for a feast by fasting does
not set well.
with this is a loss of a strong sense of sacred time and season.
We move holidays (and Holy Days) to accommodate to "practical
life," rather than vice versa. "A time for
everything and every-thing in its time," has become "Everything
all of the time...when I want it."
in many other aspects of life, then, the Orthodox Christian
must be prepared to be counter-cultural, that is, to live
in a different way than those in his surrounding milieu. In
doing this he must realize the dangers involved:
The external observances of our Faith do not
make us better than anyone else. No sense of superiority
or exclusiveness should be allowed to enter into our practice.
2. Insofar as possible, it is best to fast quietly, without
letting anyone know that you are fasting. This is clearly
in line with Our Lord's teaching. When ordering at a
restaurant, don't proclaim, "No meat for me, I'm fasting!"
Just order the dish which accords with the fast.
3. Do not become discouraged if you are unable to keep the
whole fast (see notes below). The Evil Spirit is always on
the lookout to fool us into giving up because we cannot do
it all. Part of fasting is to learn our weakness and inability
to save ourselves.
4. Remember that Fasting includes a) fasting from sin; b)
additional spiritual reading and prayer; c) almsgiving and
other works of Philanthropia ("the love of humankind").
Do not neglect these as you prepare for the Feast.
then can we keep the Christmas Fast in America today? Here
are several suggestions; you may have others. No matter what
else happens, however, do not abandon the preparation for
seriously the food requirements of the Fast, tempered by your
health and situation. In Northern California, a normally healthy
person can live very well within the borders of even the traditional
fast: we have so many restaurants and stores which provide
Tofu, shellfish and other seafood. Remember that different
days have different fast requirements. Check these carefully,
and use whatever is given for that day.
you cannot keep the whole fast, do the best you can. Most
people refrain from meat at the most basic level, though some,
because of health or situation, can only do this on Wednesdays
and Fridays, or only during the day and not at night. Some
decide to go ahead and use dairy products, but not in combination
with other foods (i.e.: A Cheese pizza, but not with anchovies
or shrimp). Others generally concede dairy products in things
like Tuna salad sandwiches, but give up cream in their coffee.
cultural festivals, such as Thanksgiving, Kwanza ,Posadas
and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, enjoy yourself, and
then return to the fast after the celebration.
fall, get discouraged, and give up. An important aspect of
the Fast is to keep the Season in our minds often during the
day. While we are not encouraging slacking off, the occasion
when there is nothing more "fasting" at the corner
deli than a cheese sandwich, can also provide a reminder of
the time and season. Not eating between meals can be a powerful
reminder to those of us who are compulsive nibblers!
office and other pre-Christmas parties, do the best you can
to eat hors-d'oeuvres and entrées which contain as
few non-fast products as possible. But remember, eat what
is set before you (without taking unfair advantage of St.
Paul's dictum). In most circumstances there are choices. Ideally,
alcohol is avoided on many days of the fast, which also accords
with safe driving!
not throw pre-Christmas parties yourself. Instead, plan post-Christmas
festivities. The English-speaking & Celtic worlds
have the wonderful tradition of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Make it more than a popular party carol! Most people
will welcome a happy gathering between Christmas and Theophany,
especially one that they don't have to run! This also
helps to alleviate those "after the holidays blues."
a more regular pattern to your day, including times for prayer
and reading. Cut down on frivolous TV or other entertainments.
This does not preclude, however, the many very worthwhile
concerts and performances common in most areas, which, because
of their religious nature, are most appropriate, and provide
a healthy boost to our preparations.
follow the Liturgical calendar of the six weeks prior to Christmas.
The many feasts give us many examples of holiness and images
of grace. Celebrate these with creative cooking and appropriate
observances in Church and at home. Use the several excellent
books listed above to help in keeping the fast periods, and
in coming to feel comfortable with being part of "a chosen
people, a royal priesthood, a nation set apart."
Spiritual Reading during the Nativity Fast, there are some
very fine books available:
Conaris, Anthony Making Christ real in the Orthodox
Archimandrite Lev Gillet The Year of Grace of the Lord
[Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Press.]
Hopko, Fr. Thomas The Winter Pascha [Crestwood, NY:
St. Vladimir's Press 1984]
_________________ A Lenten Cookbook for Orthodox Christians
(St. Nectarios Press)
Melkite Eparchy Guide to the Domestic Church
[West Newton, MA: Eparchy of Newton]
Russo, Fr. Romanos Kenosis: A Byzantine Understanding
of Christmas [West Newton, MA: Eparchy of Newton, 1989]