We've lived in the land of fried foods and the revolution for five years now. I have learned a lot about pound cakes, state's rights and the variety of hunting seasons that fill the year. I know to ask how a person's Mama is doin' and I know that BBQ is pork smothered in sauce and chicken and steaks are grilled on an open flame. I know that tea is always sweet and the humidity is always high. And I know what it means to be "fixin' to get ready." Every Orthodox Christian knows what "fixin' to get ready" is, only we call it a fast.
On November 15th we begin the Advent Fast, 40 days to prepare ourselves to appreciate the miracle that is Christmas. I look forward to this season of a lighter fast (not as strict as Easter's Fast) because it keeps us looking at the prize, that Christmas is a religious holiday and not a day we can finally rest from all the shopping, parties and travelling that filled our days since Santa rode down 34th Street and walked into Macy's at the end of the Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I actually enjoy the way the Church Calendar is set up with fasting and preparations leading up to Christmas and then celebration until the eve of Theophany, the real Twelve Days of Christmas. But most people have it backwards. They over stress, over eat, over drink and over spend during a time when they should be holding back, reflecting on the miracle that is the Virgin's childbirth. Christmas is a wonderful time not because of the loot under the tree or the vacation time to be with family (all that is good), but because it is a time when we celebrate that the Son of God put on flesh and lived among His creation in a way that only pure and true love would allow. This kind of truth, this type of deep, awesome act of love can't be properly reflected upon or appreciated in and out of festive parties and rich dinners; walking up and down mall aisles searching out for the perfect present. This type of miracle deserves a quiet, sober mind and heart. This type of miracle deserves our full attention, and so we fast.
And after the time of preparation has passed... after the fast is over and the time to celebrate has come, we are free to celebrate, not just for one day, not for 8 days like we do for Christ's Resurrection, but for twelve days! The Church Calendar gives us twelve days to celebrate Christmas- until we come to Theophany, the baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River, when the dove appears and God declares, "This is My beloved Son." Then Jesus begins His public ministry and the miracles, teachings and healing that reveal who He is really begins. Then we are given the opportunity to respond to Christ's invitation to follow Him.
So yes, on November 15th we will begin the time of preparation for Christmas. We should try to fast from meat for the 40 days. We should schedule time to take care of the poor and lonely. We should reflect upon the wonderful gift that God gave us more that we stew over what we will be giving our friends and family. And then when December 25th comes, we will celebrate! Twelve Days worth!