As Orthodox Christians begin the days of fasting in preparation for the Christmas, a time sometimes called Winter Lent, the culture in America seems to go into overdrive with crazy feasting and partying. Why is it that McDonald’s has to bring back the McRib this time of year!? Every time I turn around it seems there’s another thanksgiving meal and Christmas party.
I’ve tried to look at this hustle and bustle and ever-present Christmas decorations as a welcome reminder of the season. While the chaotic lights and light up snowmen are missing the reason for the season, they do bring a smile to my face. It’s especially pleasing to hear the delight in the voice of my children when they see Christmas lights as we drive around town. Truly, we should practice our fast with a joyful heart. Perhaps these lights can remind us to be of good cheer as we ponder and prepare for the birth of Christ.
As I stopped by the grocery store the other night I heard the jingling of a bell — a welcome sound reminder of Christmas. The Salvation Army bell ringer reminded me without saying a word that I should be giving alms while I fast. As I reflected on it afterward I remembered that the bell ringers start almost the same time as the fast, usually the week before Thanksgiving. What a good time for the up front reminder that there are those in need. The bell’s sound got me thinking that Orthodox churches often use bells to call us to prayer. When I hear bells this time of year, I’ll be reminded to pray and give alms.