Friday the 15th of November marked the first day of the Nativity Fast for Orthodox Christians. This is the period of 40 days before the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity, or Christmas as most of the western society calls it, reminding us of the anticipation of the coming of the Messiah who was born in a cave in Bethlehem. I just read this excerpt today from antiochean.org:
What is the meaning of the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord in our family life? How can we live through the preparatory period of Advent as a Christian family? Can this meaning be truly and naturally, unpretentiously, embodied in the experience of a family, a home with children, teenagers, adults and old people?
Of course, first of all, Christmas is a FEAST, a celebration, an occasion for joy. Understanding the real meaning of this joy (God coming to us to share our humanity) comes to every individual gradually, within the measure of his or her spiritual development, but the experience of joy, of rejoicing, of having a very happy time because it is Christmas is something that can be experienced by all members of the family, whatever their age, whatever their level of spirituality . . . if only there is someone within the family who remains a witness of the true meaning of this joy. The experience of a joyous celebration remains the foundation stone of understanding the meaning of the Lord’s Nativity.
Reading this and the rest of the article helped set my mind at ease. Too often I worry about whether I am setting a right example to my children in allowing them to participate in the commercialism of Christmas. We do the trees, Christmas cards, shopping, baking, and tell tales of Santa. We do gifts on Christmas morning or sometime close to it if my husband's work schedule and the church schedule allow it to happen that day.
But I worry, are we missing the real point? But what is that point? The point, of course is the birth of Christ. And no, of course we know that most likely the actual birthdate was not December 25th.... but we do know it occurred, don't we? And it IS a cause for wonderous joy and celebration! God, Himself, came into this earthly world fully God and fully human within the womb of a virgin to share our humanity! That is, indeed, a cause for great celebration!!
So the shopping, tree decorating, and baking turkeys were not part of Christ's birthdays while He was alive here on this earth - it is something we do as part of the celebration we enjoy now in rememberance of this great event. Where we need to caution ourselves is whether we are remembering the point of this celebration or are we getting so wrapped up in the commercialism that we are missing it? Are we remembering why Christmas morning is significant? Are we putting our worship time at church first, before the hustle and bustle? Are we being real Christians in our treatment of others while we are out in the midst of that hustle and bustle? Are we remembering the three kings and the symbolisms of their gifts or are we more concerned with the best deal of the shopping season? Are we remembering the reason for this preperation is for the arrival of a babe lying in a manger, a babe that is Christ? Are we remembering the nativity fast when Orthodox Christians prepare for 40 days beforehand through praying, fasting, giving alms, etc? After all,if one prepares by cleaning and meal preperation for a guest coming to their homes, shouldn't one also have even greater preperation in preparing for Christ?
This Year For The Nativity Fast, I'm participating in an activity put together by Adventures of An Orthodox Mom. I love reading the psalms! It's being part of a large group of Orthodox women who are praying the psalter together. Everyone reads a different part of the psalter each day so through the group of over 72 women, each and every day, the entire psalter is read. Along with the psalms we read each day, we pray for the women in our group.
Our family is also trying once again to complete the readings that go along with the Jesse tree. We don't have a tree. Instead I draped a swag of greens over the kitchen window so we can see it during dinner which is when we do our readings. For more on the Jesse tree project, go to this nice write up on Anticohean.org.
After we do our reading each night, we hang an ornament representing the reading onto the greens. Then I read a small meditation out of Daily Meditations and Prayers for the Christmas Advent Fast and Epiphany by Presbytera Emily Harakas & Fr Anthony Coniaris.
This year, my husband's schedule is tight around the holy day. He works the night of Christmas day... so our earthly traditions may need to change a bit. Obviously church attendance comes first. We will probably have a more simple meal so we can enjoy the day together as a family rather than worrying about preparing a whole lot of food and the clean up afterwards. But on that day, and the rest of the days leading up to it, I hope that I can convey the importance of the celebration to my family. I hope that the Christmas spirit comes into our souls and we remember what it's all about. I hope that all of you will know and feel it too. The coming of our Lord... it's a great reason to celebrate!
God Bless you all!