My Take: Why we're skipping the Christmas roast
Food practices are important for the journey of spiritual formation, the author says.
December 24th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

My Take: Why we're skipping the Christmas roast

Editor's note: The Rev. Dr. Craig Goodwin is the author of  "Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living."  His family is dedicating a year to explore the role of food in Christian spiritual formation by eating their way through different food traditions, one month at a time. He is writing about their experiences at www.tablesofplenty.com.

By The Rev. Dr. Craig Goodwin, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Advent is a season of feasting for most American Christians. It unofficially begins on Thanksgiving with gut-busting portions of turkey and potatoes and carries on all the way through to Christmas with a dietary gauntlet of party trays, cookies and candy canes.

Our family is trying a different approach to Advent this year by following what Orthodox Christians call the Nativity Fast in which participants refrain from dairy, eggs, oil, wine and meat. Fish, wine and oil are allowed on certain designated days. As my 9-year-old daughter explained to her friends over school lunch, “We’re going vegan this Christmas.”

In this season where most of us fret about undisciplined eating and gaining weight, it’s refreshing to discover a community that is eating to the ring of a different dinner bell. What’s even more interesting to me is that not only do Orthodox Christians fast for 40 days leading up to Christmas, they fast for more than half the year.

My newly acquired Orthodox calendar of the church year mingles the listing of each day’s Scripture readings with symbols of fish, bunches of grapes, blocks of cheese and crosses that guide the faithful in what can be eaten on any given day.

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Food is central to the spiritual practices of Orthodox Christians, which is quite a contrast with my experience as an American Protestant with a calendar of the church year devoid of any guidance regarding what foods to eat and when. It’s a given that we will eat Jell-O salad and casseroles at our potlucks, but I have yet to hear anyone extol the spiritual virtues of these dishes.

This absence of food practices among many American Christians is especially remarkable given the current proliferation of food rules in the popular culture.

When our family spent a year eating only local food in 2008 we discovered passionate communities of locavores, vegans, slow food connoisseurs, sustainable agriculture activists and others who all emphasize the powerful role of food choices in the formation of a person. While most of these movements are considered "secular," they often have a sacred feel to them.

For example Michael Pollan, the John the Baptist of foodies across the land, describes a meal with friends at the conclusion of "The Ominvore’s Dilemma" as a “secular seder.” He writes, “(E)very item on our plates pointed somewhere else, almost sacramentally, telling a little story about nature or community or even the sacred, for mystery was often the theme. Such storied food can feed us both body and soul. ...”

Many who have given up on traditional religion, but still hunger for a spiritual connection, have embraced farms as holy ground and dinner tables laden with artisan cheese and locally grown kale as places of communion.

Alexander Schmemann, a prominent Eastern Orthodox theologian, writes about this sacred-secular phenomenon in his book "For the Life of the World":

“Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian. Food is still treated with reverence. To eat is still something more than to maintain bodily functions. People may not understand what that ‘something more’ is, but they nonetheless desire to celebrate it. They are still hungry and thirsty for sacramental life.”

Unfortunately, what secularism had been unable to accomplish in 1973 when Schmemann wrote those words, industrial food practices are well on their way to achieving today. It is this move toward industrialization that has spurred Pollan and others to defend eating as “something more,” but the American church has largely been silent on these issues and there are some indications that its members are suffering for it.

According to a recent study by Northwestern University,  “young adults who frequently attend religious activities are 50% more likely to become obese by middle age than are young adults with no religious involvement.”

The authors of the Northwestern study can’t explain the correlation of obesity and religious faith, but it at least serves as a signal that food needs to be on the agenda of the American church. And as our family has discovered during the Nativity fast, there are historic resources with deep roots in the gospel of Jesus that can help guide the conversation.

At minimum, it’s time for American Christians to recognize what many of their nonreligious friends have discovered - that food practices are important for the journey of spiritual formation. They are a meaningful way to connect with the mystery that underlies all of creation.

Better yet, maybe it’s time for an Orthodox moment in American Christianity where Protestants and evangelicals rediscover the generative role of fasting and feasting on the journey of following Jesus. We’ll all be better off for it, both body and soul.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of The Rev. Dr. Craig Goodwin.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Christmas • Food

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. steve

    we are skipping it because those who don't know they are going to heaven are affraid of God's power because they don't know what will happen to them

    February 2, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  2. gman

    Personally I don't think any organized "Religion" should be telling their followers what foods to eat and when. But as for roast on Christmas, we actually had on this year; it was venison roast and it was pretty good. I fail to understand why eating a certain way during certain days for a certain time makes anyone any closer to God. He made everything on this planet to eat, with certain restrictions in the Old Testament. However; I have yet to find in the good book where we are instructed to eat only fish or only veggies during times of the year. That is man made, and has been adopted as fact and followed as such.

    December 31, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  3. Kie

    Early Christianity, know in academia as Christian Mythology, was a Gnostic religion that worshiped the Sun to the extent that they personified it and wrote mythological stories (analogies) about it and its surrounding constellations. By the mid second century, religious cults began to strip away the reality and just spread the myths to the point that the myths became the perceived reality. After all, what better way to control people than controlling their sense of reality; which religion (cultic) is all about.

    Jesus is just the latest sungod; he is preceded by Horus, Mithra, and Krishna, to name a few, and all were born on December 25, for a logical reason.

    When you look at ancient portraits of Jesus, his head is centered in a circle that is divided into four quadrants. This circle represents the zodiac with the quadrants representing the two solstices and two equinoxes, with the aurora around Jesus’s head representing the aurora that surrounds the sun and the sun’s rays breaking through the clouds.

    If you look at the bible from an astrological viewpoint, what was written about what sungod Jesus said, makes sense, it isn't a parable.

    Take for instance, the word 'age.’ In the early biblical versions, Jesus said he will be with his desciples till the end of the age, not the world. (Matt 28:20) The age being when the charted constellations will shift and the Sun (Jesus) will rise over the constellation Pieces (Solstice) instead of Aries.

    And when his desciples (the 12 zodiacs which sungod Jesus walks with) ask Jesus where the next Passover will be, he replies: He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters.” (Luke 22:10). This is a reference to the Solstice shifting and the Sun (Jesus) rising in Aquarius, which will occur in about 150 years. Due to the Earth's wobbling, the Zodiacs shift every 2150 years with The Grand Year (full shift) occurring every 27,000 years (according to what our ancestors charted for the last 10,000 years).

    And the story of Jesus's birth? Taken right out of the star charts; The Three Kings refers to the three brightest stars in Orion's belt which were called The Three Kings long before Christianity was invented. And during the Solstice, these Three Kings line up with the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, which leads The Three Kings to the spot on the horizon at which the Sun (Jesus) rises on the Solstice.

    Yes, that's right; the bible is nothing more than stories based on the recordings of the stars, not a bunch of mystical or magical events! And the world doesn't come to an ‘end’; it comes to the end of an 'Age."

    So, why don’t preachers let their congregation on to this knowledge and continue to deceive them? Ego! What preacher wants to tell their congregation that it was all a mistake; that Jesus isn’t a real person and that all the stories in the bible are exactly that, just stories!

    What preacher wants to tell their congregation to stop filling the offering plate and go home and that they’ll find some other way of earning a living. And don’t forget, operating expenses for a church will continue even when the people stop coming; yet another reason for perpetuating the myth. Perhaps, like being a story teller; a profession similar to what they’ve been doing all along!

    December 31, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  4. shara

    As a bible student, I have discovered that the meal plan outlined by God in the bible, as meant for our well-being and longevity, is by far the best instruction that can be obtained. I am a vegetarian as a result. An in-depth study from Genesis to Revelation will reveal that meat-eating was only allowed after the flood to shorten our lives, since the longer we lived, the more we sinned. Science confirms what the bible knows: that a diet of fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables is the most healthful. There is guidance, but most churches do not teach it for fear of a backlash from their members. And too many pastors would rather excuse their addiction to flesh meat by various mistranslations of New Testament verses, than follow Jesus' instruction in the commandments and statutes, which were written for our good.

    December 29, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  5. hippypoet

    cause we are too fat and only now realizing it... we are the fattest nation on the planet, maybe its time for a diet!

    December 27, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
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