We started the Nativity fast yesterday – thirteen days later than our new calendar brethren. [For explanation of calendar differences, follow this link: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Julian_Calendar] We’re old calendar for the first time this year. The Serbian church still follows the old calendar (like a lot of the world) while a lot of the churches in America follow the new calendar (like the OCA, the Antiochians, etc.). There was a distinct advantage particular to our family: Duchess’s birthday always fell during the Nativity fast, but not anymore. She’s very happy about this. Of course, we always celebrated it early. Also, Thanksgiving just squeaked in the door this year. Nice to have turkey instead of fish!
The most important (and visible) difference is, of course, the date of Christmas. For old-calendar Christians, Christmas is January 7th. That means that while most of the world is having Christmas parties (I know of some next week), we will be beginning Advent. While people are singing Christmas carols at church, we will still be fasting and preparing. While people are taking down their Christmas trees, we will be putting ours up. And when most people have forgotten Christmas, lost their New Year’s resolutions and are starting on their “Lose 40 Pounds Before Bathing Suit Season!” diets, we will be celebrating the birth of Christ. Needless to say, it’s going to be different!
We had to decide what to do about the family divide. We are the only Orthodox Christians in our families. We also had to contend with the children’s reactions. They’re used to opening presents on December 25th and will have received and given extended family gifts by then. We decided to open presents on December 25th but continue to fast and then celebrate Christmas (liturgically) on January 7th. For all intents and purposes, this means that presents and Christmas will be separated. Everyone talks about how material Christmas has become – I guess we’re actually doing something about it this year. I don’t know how other convert families cope with this problem, but we’re going to try this this year.
I’m looking forward to a quiet Christmas, away from the cacophony of commercial Christmas glitz. I can’t say with any honesty that I enjoy the fast, mostly because of the difficulty of cooking for five children (not that the baby fasts, but that only makes it harder). But it’s not supposed to be “fun” and we cater too much to our bodily desires anyway. And if you never fast, you don’t know how wonderful the “feast” is! As hard as it is, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
I hope everyone has a good Advent, no matter what calendar you’re following, so that on Christmas Day, we can offer this:
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!
—Kontakion for Christmas, Roman the Melodist