This morning I dusted off my Christmas binder and began to flip through the pages. My heart fluttered at the sight of all the beautiful decorations, yummy recipes and sweet memories of Christmases past. I began to add reminder notes for projects I want to do with the boys this year and scribbled a few new names onto my Christmas card list. I can hardly believe Christmastime is almost here.
The Nativity fast, or Advent, begins every year on November 15. Unlike the start of Great Lent, the start of this fast gets lost somewhere among all the other fall activities. This means we must make an extra effort to mark it as an important event in our homes. Advent is also different from Great Lent because there is excitement in the air as we anxiously prepare for God’s greatest gift to mankind.
The Nativity fast is also a slightly easier fast because fish is allowed on most weekends and seafood throughout the week, yet it still ends up feeling more difficult, doesn’t it? I think this is mainly because the majority of our friends and family are not fasting and are busy pre-celebrating Christmas with parties full of all of the things we are abstaining from. So, I wanted to compile a list of some suggestions on how to make the holidays a little bit easier so we can continue focusing on the upcoming birth of our Savior.
It’s so hard not to get caught up in the secular hustle and bustle of the season, but by guarding ourselves against all of that we take so much pressure off ourselves and that creates more room for the peace of Christ to enter our homes and hearts during this special time of year.
Below you’ll find a few delicious recipes to serve at this year’s Christmas parties and lots of ways to help your children prepare for the wonderful feast of the Nativity.
Holiday baking and cooking has always been one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season and when I began to really fast for the entire forty days, this was quite a struggle for me. I wanted so badly to nibble on all the different Christmas cookies and itched to whip up some of the fun and scrumptious looking meals I saw in all the magazines. But I couldn’t!
So, every year I search through magazines and websites trying to find recipes that will make abstaining from those things a little easier. Lucky for me, the vegan trend has exploded in recent years and now finding great tasting and fun recipes requires little more than the click of my mouse.
The recipes linked here are absolutely delicious and no one will even know they’re lenten! Here’s just a few of my favorites.
You can even bring some vegan eggnog! If you need recipe ideas for appetizers, side dishes or entrees check out my Fasting Recipes pin board or just google vegan christmas recipes. You’ll find tons of ideas!
One thing we do to mark November 15 as the start of the Nativity fast is take out all of our Christmas decorations. They don’t all necessarily go up that day, but we bring all of the bins out of the attic and rummage through them, pulling out our very favorite items. We get a real tree every year and it doesn’t arrive until after Thanksgiving so, we can’t decorate but we do clear the area where it will go and neatly stack the bins against the wall in anticipation. Our advent calender also goes up that day, marking the first of the forty days until the birth of Christ.
It’s so important to keep our fast and focus during this time of year, especially when we have little ones looking to us as examples. We should pay careful attention to include them during the fast and make them feel involved. Some of my favorite ways to do this are:
- Celebrate the various feasts during the fast like the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple on November 21, St. Katherine on November 25, St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and St. Herman of Alaska & St. Lucia on December 13.
- Sign them up for our annual Orthodox Kid’s Ornament Exchange! Sign-ups will be posted here next week. This give children the opportunity to make Christ centered ornaments and meet other Orthodox kids! Who doesn’t love getting lots of homemade packages in the mail?
- Make paper chains and write the names of people your children want to pray for on the inside.
- Something we’ve never done and I’m looking forward to doing this year is an Advent wreath. I finally ordered this one and can’t wait for it to come in!
- Make your own or buy a pre-made Advent calendar. It’s okay to use the twenty five day ones in addition to an Orthodox one, but you definitely want at least one with forty days! We use this little house and this wall one. Several years ago we made this one out of a cookie sheet and this year I’ve started on this one with an additional fifteen mittens. Hopefully, it’ll be done…by next year. 😉
- Bake lenten Christmas cookies. It makes stashing away all those non-fasting ones a bit easier!
- Participate in a RACK project. We had sooo much fun with this last year and can’t wait to start again!
- Go purchase some of the coloring books from Potamitis Publishing. They are fantastic and are an excellent way to get kids engaged during the fast. Here’s a link to their Nativity ones.
- This is also a great free printable for kids- Little Orthodox Christian Workbook
- Making prosphoro certainly isn’t limited to fasting periods, but if it’s not something you do regularly throughout the year this is a great time to introduce it to your children. This fantastic Orthodox Prosphoro Lesson and Activity book provides the perfect introduction.
- Another thing we’ve never done and I’m thinking about starting this year is a Jesse Tree. Illumination Learning blog provides some great instructions here.
- Look for Nativity themed toys rather than Santa Claus and elves. This helps children remember that Christmas is about Christ not about presents. Hobby Lobby always has some terrific stuff as do most Christian stores.
My sister picked up this little Pocket Nativity set for Sprout last year when she was in NC working with The Samaritan’s Purse on their Christmas shoebox project. He loves it and so do I!
The holy fathers teach us that our three biggest weapons against the devil are:
During the forty days before Christmas, the fasting part is already there for us. By participating in a RACK project (link above), we add the element of almsgiving. You should also look into local food banks and shelters who are always in need of extra help this time of year. And if you’d like to add more prayer to this equation, you should join our Psalter Groups. It is by far my favorite thing about the forty day fasts. You can get all the details and sign up for this year’s groups here.
More helpful links:
- Some beautiful Nativity Reflections.
- Brush up on your Nativity History with this post: Christmas 101: An Orthodox Christian Understanding.
- Not sure what to cook during the fast? Check out my Lenten Meal Plan.
- A few more Advent traditions and ideas.
Be sure to check back for updates on new Christmas projects and recipes! Have a joyous and peaceful Nativity fast!