What is the nativity fast?



Q. I'm looking for some direction on an old Catholic tradition -- the nativity fast. Although I'm a lifelong Catholic, educated in Catholic schools, I had never heard of this until I watched a documentary about how Catholics celebrated Christmas during the Renaissance.

I'd love to learn how I can participate in this fast and why the tradition went away. As a Catholic millennial, I am looking for ways to be more introspective this Christmas and focus on the birth of Jesus, as it is easy to get distracted by all the festivities that come with this season. (Newport News, Virginia)

A. The nativity fast is still practiced today by the Eastern Orthodox Church and by Eastern-rite Catholics. It lasts for 40 days -- from Nov. 15 through Dec. 24 -- and offers Christians the opportunity to prepare for the feast of Christmas by disciplining their bodies.

By abstaining from certain food and drink -- particularly from meat, fish, dairy products, olive oil and wine -- as well as by focusing more on prayer and almsgiving, the nativity fast seeks to make one more conscious of his or her dependence on God.

Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) is a strict fast day, called Paramony (literally, "preparation") on which no solid food is eaten until the first star of the evening is seen in the sky. In general, those participating in the nativity fast are encouraged to spend more time in reflective thought and in reading the Scriptures.

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.