Monday, November 19, 2012

Winter Fast

Since days started to shorten after Autumn Equinox on 23.9, I experienced a greater need for more food and often found myself eating things I would not touch otherwise. Darker and colder evenings found me craving everything else but vegetables or fruit.  Quite a few weeks went by without any raw salads, which I used to eat happily and daily during the Summer. I exchanged them for cooked root vegetables, meat stock soups and fermented sheep dairy with sourdough bread (not to mention my list of „bad“ things :-).

Coming mid-November, just before the New Moon, all this has suddenly changed. I started to feel like more raw salads again, and fewer eggs, chocolates, cheeses, yogurts and such. I have had quite a few days of eating very little food or having just fruit and rye bread, making kale chips as my „main“ meal. I was unsure why this occurred, just like that, without trying to fight the cravings. Giving up things felt effortless. It all became more clear when I found today, by chance, the article about the Winter Lent. I admit I have never heard about it before. I have heard about the Great Lent, practiced several weeks before Easter. Spring fast is well known, with its modern equivalent in form of spring detox, but no "winter fast" cover in our daily media and life. Quite the opposite; pre-Christmas parties, shopping, and more shopping. Far from a "time of preparation" for receiving of spiritual teachings, meditation or "giving up" material things.

Winter Lent, or, according to Wikipedia, the Nativity Fast, „ is a period of abstinence and penance practiced by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches, in preparation for the Nativity of Christ, (December 25). The fast is similar to the Western Advent, except that it runs for 40 days instead of four weeks. The fast is observed from November 15 to December 24, inclusively.“

Traditionally, the majority of households in Slovakia practice fasting all day till dusk on 24.12, preparing for Christmas Eve, which includes making food but not eating it. I like the description in Wikipedia, which states, „no solid food should be eaten until the first star is seen in the evening sky“, and it goes on... „or at the very least, until after the Vesperal Divine Liturgy that day. If Paramony (lit. preparation) falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the day is not observed as a strict fast, but a meal with wine and oil is allowed after the Divine Liturgy, which would be celebrated in the morning...“

Divine Liturgy is explained here ... „In Eastern traditions, especially that of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Divine Liturgy is seen as transcending time. All believers are believed to be united in worship in the Kingdom of God along with departed Saints and the celestial Angels...“

From another side of spirituality, the significance of this period in our calendar is described by Risa D'Angeles in her newsletter article Winter Solstice - Return of the Light During Capricorn.

„The Winter Solstice has historically been the time of birth for all of Earth's great teachers. For humanity, the birth of the light signifies the First Initiation or first stirrings of the Soul from matter (see article on First Initiation). Because it is the time of new light for the planet, World Teachers choose this particular season to incarnate (come into matter) because they always bring new teaching. This teaching provides us with a new state of illumination (light). Winter Solstice occurs on December 21, when the planetary keynote changes from Sagittarius to Capricorn. At the time of the Winter Solstice, the light currents submerged within the core of the Earth reverse and change course, just like the Sun, which is reversing its southward course and turning northward. A reverse movement of any planetary body creates a powerful force until the new motion or path stabilizes. Therefore, from December 21 to midnight on the morning of December 25th, there is a powerful force field of light and radiation enveloping the Earth. This is the purpose of the Catholic Midnight Mass. It "heralds" the new light, which the angels on high sang. May we too "see" the light.“

Details of fasts usually depend on the exact traditions of religious or spiritual groups. Still, often this means avoiding „red meat, poultry, meat products, eggs, dairy products, fish, oil, and wine. Fish, wine and oil are allowed on Saturdays and Sundays, and oil and wine are allowed on Tuesdays and Thursdays...“

The emphasis is also placed on spiritual fasting, avoiding „anger, greed and covetousness“.

What to add from a holistic nutritional point of view?

Tuning to natural cycles often helps to recognise what we need for our bodies to make us healthier. Most people in Western countries overindulge in meat and dairy products, so there is no doubt that avoiding it for a few weeks can be a very positive experience. Exceptions are advised even in religious groups, where weak and ill people, children and pregnant women are excluded from strict fasts.
We should also remember since the traditions were formed before invention of „modern“ foods, there are other choices we may reconsider this time of year; processed and convenient foods, fake "non-foods", sweets, sugary and artificial drinks, stimulants, cakes, salted snacks and so on.

We all have our way and time to find out what we need. Effortlessly, without feelings of „being punished or deprived“. Let's try to see the positive side – we are privileged to have a choice. In the Western world, we can choose almost any food. Let's use it and choose the foods which are clean, ethical, healthy, and wholesome. If it is not possible all year round, the Winter Lent, with its spiritual power, maybe the right time. It becomes a little bit easier, followed by the richness of celebrations during Christmas, New Year and throughout January.