Dealing with a Secularized Christmas
Question: I hate the secularization of Christmas. How can I and my family keep the
Nativity Fast and celebrate Christmas without getting into all the commercialization
that surrounds it in society?
Almost all of what can be said in reply to this question is very obvious and simple,
but can be difficult to implement. For those with families, it would be advisable
to talk over all these points together and to encourage each other in adhering to
everything as we draw nearer and nearer to the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord.
If a beginning in the following suggestions has not already been made, it is never
too late to start.
First of all, be sure to keep the fast! In following the fast as we should, many
of the intrusions which the world makes into our homes during this time will automatically
be eliminated. Remember, a “fasting” day or period is not limited only to food,
but includes vain entertainment as well.
With this in mind, we would like to stress that no one should look at “fasting”
as something negative: “we can’t do...”, “we can’t eat...”, we can’t go. Instead
we need to redefine the way we see a fasting period, such as this time before the
Nativity of the Lord. This is a preparation period and a time for spiritual growth—and
this idea is certainly not something negative!
The world in which we live is constantly intruding into our innermost lives as it
attacks all of the bodily senses; this is never more obvious than during this time
of the year. We are encouraged to see, hear, taste, touch and smell all sorts of
things that take our minds off of traveling the road to Bethlehem for the birth
Obviously, for those who are either single, widowed or have no young children in
the home, all of what we need to do to make the Nativity Fast a true time of spiritual
growth is much easier. The target for so much of the advertising during this period
is aimed directly at those who are most vulnerable—the children—and the things which
are advertised are usually the very things that we need to avoid. Each household
is a unique situation, and this will have to be kept in mind when trying to implement
the suggestions we would like to make.
Those with children at home often find the actual fasting from foods difficult during
this time when it seems that so many rich, enticing and definitely non-fasting foods
are pushed at us. It often helps to have special Lenten foods that the family enjoys
and which are served only during this and other fasting periods. We do not, however,
want to dwell only on the culinary aspects of the fast in this article; we assume
that all reading this are indeed adhering to this aspect of the fast, since it is
A fast only from specific foods is certainly not the sum total of our preparation
for the Nativity. Fasting includes avoiding entertainment—another thing which abounds
during this season. It is possible in almost all circumstances to avoid office parties
and other gatherings by truthfully stating that as Orthodox Christians we do not
begin to celebrate until the Feast has arrived. IF attendance at such an
event absolutely cannot be avoided, then it is always possible to find things to
eat that do not break the fast, and also to simply excuse yourself early.
This is certainly a time when we should be intensifying our reading and daily prayers.
We find a number of great saints whose feast days fall within this fast: St. Nicholas
on December 6, Saint Spiridon on December 12, St. Herman on December 13, St. Ignatius
on December 20 to name just a few. Read their lives and truly pray to them. Also,
within the time of this fast there are quite a few of the prophets whose feast days
are also commemorated: read their prophecies as well from the Old Testament. The
Katavasia of the Nativity are sung beginning on November 21—whether you are a singer
or not, get the words and music from your priest and learn them, singing them throughout
the day when you are alone or with your family. They are very beautiful and uplifting.
These are just a few of the things that can be read as a family, as well as individually,
and our daily prayers can—and should—include a petition to God to keep us from all
which would harm the soul.
Many parishes offer a retreat or seminar during this time. If your own parish is
not having something like this, there is a good chance that a surrounding parish
is! Speak with your priest and ask him about this. If there is not a retreat or
seminar (and even if there is!) it would be a good idea for several people, like
yourself, who want to redirect their priorities during the Nativity Fast to meet
together in a reading group. Accountability always tends to make us read and pray
The so-called “Christmas specials” on television and the bombardment of commercials
that tell us of all the things we absolutely must have or must buy to be a good
mother, father, brother, relative, friend, etc., are enough reason for everyone
to turn off the television! The “Christmas specials” seem to emphasize that the
“true meaning of Christmas” involves being loving, caring, self-giving, etc (sandwiched
in between commercials which appeal to greed) and mention nothing of the fact that
God has become flesh in His love for mankind in order to restore us to that image
that was lost!
Now we finally come to the most obvious aspect of the secular celebration of Christmas—presents.
While it is now too late to implement this suggestion, it is certainly something
that can be remembered and acted upon for next year purchase gifts before the Fast
Limit gifts to a minimum. Certainly everyone has said at one point or another that
the proverbial “next year” will be different and more simple. Begin now. There are
so many ways in which this can be done, and again, every situation is unique. Most
people like gift certificates or a donation made to their favorite charity in their
name. Within families, it can be as easy or as difficult to limit the frenzy of
gift-giving as you decide to make it.
Above everything, remember that we begin to celebrate when the world around
us is finished celebrating! On December 25 we hear non-Orthodox people saying, “Well,
that was a nice Christmas, but I’m glad it’s over.” For us, having fasted and anticipated
the Lord’s birth for forty days, we are just beginning to celebrate, to sing carols
and to comfort our weary bodies with richer foods.
Let us celebrate the feast of the Lord’s Incarnation with spiritual joy instead
of being so tired and burned out that we echo the sentiments of those outside the
Faith who are glad to see these days, which are so holy to us, come to an end.
Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ is come from the heavens, receive Him! Christ
on the earth. Rejoice, all the earth, sing to the Lord, for He has covered Himself
From The Veil, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Nativity Fast, 2005). Originally titled
"The commercialism of Christmas". The Veil is a publication of the Protection
of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Monastery. Free subscriptions to The Veil are
available by writing or calling the convent: 2343 County Road 403, Lake George,
CO 80827; 719-748-3999. Posted on 12/10/2006 with the permission of the convent.