For those of you who come to visit and are not Orthodox this period of time, despite the songs you hear at the mall, is not "looking a lot like Christmas...". Historically, in both the Eastern and Western forms of the ancient Faith this period, the weeks before Christmas, is a fasting time called Advent, or Nativity Lent. Less rigorous then the Lenten fast, except for the period of December 20-24 in the East, it still is a time when we are to limit our diets while increasing our prayers and charitable endeavors.
This, of course, is not regularly practiced in large swaths of Christian America. Most American Christians haven't even heard of this ancient practice and in a world where the weeks following Thanksgiving are largely an orgy of commercialism and consumption the idea of restraint in any period of the year, let alone now, is radical. Even many Orthodox Christians take a "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" approach to the fast before Nativity (Christmas).
For me the largely vegetarian part of the fast is not particularly difficult. My diet is predominantly vegetarian anyway and as I get older I'm less inclined to eat meat at any time of the year. I just don't like it that much. So I suppose a person looking at me from the outside would see that I'm largely in technical compliance with the rules of the fast. But is my "technical fast" a true fast?
Looking back I'm not sure. It's amazing how skilled a person can get in finding foods that technically meet the fasting requirements but are largely absent from its spirit. Twizzlers, a favorite candy of mine, are completely fast eligible in the technical sense of the word as they have no meat or dairy products (come to think of it they really don't have any natural ingredients) but is eating a "vegetarian" candy really fasting? No.
Yet another issue looms for me, quantity. It is quite possible to gorge yourself on vegetables and I've figured out, on many occasions, how to stuff myself while appearing to piously keep the fast. Gluttony is gluttony whether its ice cream or carrots and to consume more than I need is not only a bad health practice but also hardly an example of fasting in the best sense of the word.
That's the hardest deception for me to face, the illusion of fasting. Because of it I can feel like I have fasted but in fact my heart and soul are still in that place of feeding things which should not be nourished. The deep and true blessings of the fast, of any fast, still elude me if I have only managed nothing more then keeping chocolate out of my mouth or feasted at a salad bar.
Knowing that it's quite probable that after more then a decade in Orthodoxy I'm still just now learning to fast.