Advent Fasts and Feasts

this page:
Fasts and Feasts
of Advent
see also :

Advent candle

A Season
of Preparation

Advent Wreath:
Prayers - Customs

Meditations for
Each Week

About St. Nicholas


Christmas tree


Prayers and Customs

Prayers for
the Home

Prayers for
the New Year

Prayers for
the Family

Feast of
the Epiphany

Site Introduction

  By Mary Ann Castronovo Fusco

Spacer "What should we make to eat?"

SpacerThat question invariably arises when preparations are under way for the arrival of a guest, especially an honored or long-awaited one. Advent, when Christians prepare to commemorate the arrival of the Christ Child, is no different.

Rubev's Three VisitorsSpacerBoth the Old and New Testaments are generously peppered with references to farming and feasting, and to bestowing food on both strangers and loved ones. Abraham and Sarah unwittingly entertained three angels with calf, curds, and milk (Gen. 18:1-16). To satisfy the hunger of the crowds that followed him, Jesus fed them with an abundance of bread and fish (Matthew 15: 29-37). "The Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich foods and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines," promised the prophet Isaiah (25: 6). Jesus referred to himself as "the bread of life" (John 6:35) and, significantly, the Hebrew name for Bethlehem, the site of the Savior's birth, is Bethlehem, which means "house of bread." [right: Rubev's Three Visitors]

SpacerPrecisely when Advent, the approximately four-week period preceding Christmas, first came to be observed is debated. But originally it was a penitential period similar to Lent. In 380 the Council of Saragossa stressed daily church attendance from December 17 until the Epiphany. Pope St. Leo I (the Great), best known for persuading Attila the Hun to spare Rome from destruction in the fifth century, called for fasting on the Wednesdays and Fridays in the weeks before Christmas.

SpacerIn 581 the Synod of Mac in present-day France called for fasting on the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from November 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours, up to and including Christmas Eve, December 24.  The Council of Constantinople in 1166 set the fast to begin on November 15.

SpacerIn the Greek Orthodox tradition, Advent remains to this day a solemn season, with the faithful abstaining from meat, fish other than shellfish, dairy products, and sweets in the days leading up to Christmas. In some Eastern churches, the pre-Christmas fast is known as St. Philip's Fast, because it begins on the day after the feast of St. Philip the Apostle, November 14.

SpacerNonetheless, even in the ancient days of Advent commemoration, a variety of food traditions sprang up. Associated with the holy days that fall during the season, these traditions reinforce the concepts of compassion and hospitality that lie at the core of Christianity. They resonate with symbolism of warmth overtaking cold, light dispelling darkness, love conquering hate-in short, the message of Christmas itself.

For St. Martin, a Goose and a Biscuit

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Copyright 2003 - Mary Ann Castronovo Fusco
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