We fast because the Old Testament faithful fasted. We fast because Jesus fasted. We fast because the Apostles fasted. We fast because Jesus did not say, "if you fast" but, "When you fast..." So we fast.
But what good does it do? What does the denial of physical food do for one's spiritual soul? The answer lies in the idea of training coupled with the Paul's desire for us to "glorify God with your body". It is not always easy to deny certain foods. I for one think most everything can taste better with cheese on it, but I am allowed none of it this fasting season. For others, this might be no big deal, for me it can be very annoying. But compared to denying negative thoughts I have about people or putting someones needs before my own, it is relatively simple. So I work on the smaller things of food, learn to say no to things I want, and be conscience of times I can apply that in my dealings with people.
In both testaments the faithful used prayer and fasting as a time for preparation for an event, and that event was usually an experience with God. The Nativity fast is the same. We are preparing our hearts, starting with the way we eat and live, to create in us an ever increasing desire for God. And that is what happens at Nativity. God shows up.
For myself it is also a constant reminder of what is coming. With the Nativity fast it is not so evident since images of Christmas pop up around town before Halloween, but with Easter it a completely different story. Before Orthodoxy, Easter just kinda showed up on Saturday and I would remember to "wear something nice" on Sunday. During the Lenten fast before Easter, I would daily be reminded of the reason for this fast. I would remember because I was hungry, and I was hungry often. When I realized how hungry I was, it would cause me to think about why I was hungry. So there was rarely a day during the fast when my mind wasn't on the Resurrection. That in itself is enough reason for me to participate in the fast.
Eating less takes your energy levels down and you do things slower. You do life slower. And in the craziness that can overwhelm Christmas, taking life slower is a welcomed feature of fasting. During the fast you try to watch less TV, read more, go outside, say hi to your neighbor, things that most people want to, but rarely accomplish.
Fasting is not done alone. The family, the church family, the Orthodox Church globally fast together. Doing so brings us together and together we draw closer to God. Matthew Gallatin is fond of pointing out that Orthodox believers all know what you mean when you utter one word: beans. We have already had too many of them and there is more to come. We all struggle to get through them, and at this foundational level are looking forward to the feast. Fasting is better understood collectively.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. How does that work? Well for me, I will be enjoying turkey, yams with marshmallows on top, and pumpkin pie. I hope to enjoy all those things, converse with my family, and look forward to Nativity. We try not to parade the fact that we are fasting around for all to see (which is ironic, since I am writing about it on this blog), so when someone asks us to dine with them, we do. We provide no list of dietary restrictions. We eat what is put before us and we thank God for blessing us. I think it will work just fine.