The first hard frost came to North Mississippi this week, browning the grass, killing my marigolds and zinnias, signaling the final, for-real end to Indian summer. Soon the last colored leaves will wither and fall, as autumn sinks and settles towards winter’s long night. The local WalMart put out their Christmas merchandise the week before Halloween this year. My neighbors will wait a little longer, perhaps even until the day after Thanksgiving, to set up their yearly extravaganza of lights and lawn ornaments. And really, it’s not too early to begin thinking about Christmas. The Church also begins turning her thoughts towards the birth of Our Lord early, before Fall is even truly over. Orthodox Christians begin their journey towards Christmas on November 15th, a full forty days before the holiday arrives. But the Orthodox season of Advent bears closer resemblance to the natural world’s acceptance of winter than it does to the hustle and bustle of commercial “holiday time.” Advent in the Church is not as solemn and penitent as Great Lent is, but it is a season of fasting, a time for sinking and settling, letting the sound and color of the world recede a bit as we surrender to the cold quiet of winter. We embrace the emptiness, the darkness of a world spinning ever farther from the light. Like the grass and the trees we lie quiet, expectant, waiting not for the solstice, when the earth turns back towards the sun, but for the coming of the Son, the only light that can warm and fill the emptiness of a world without God. And just as twinkling stars and Christmas lights cheer us on dark winter evenings, so the many small celebrations and traditions of Advent are all the more comforting and joyful against the sober backdrop of fasting and prayer.
If this is your first time keeping an Orthodox fast, welcome. I hope this blog can begin to help you answer the inevitable question: “What on earth am I going to eat?” If you have made this journey many times and need a little culinary inspiration, I hope you will enjoy cooking with me as I try to nourish my family with fresh, seasonal, whole foods throughout the fast. If you are not Orthodox and have no intention of keeping the fast, you are still welcome to share in the meals, reflections, and traditions (old and new) that make this season meaningful to my family and myself.