Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Moveable Fast

I meant to comment on this NYTs op-ed yesterday, but just ran out of time. Check it out here:

Essentially, the piece discusses how the pilgrims fasted in addition to feasting. Specifically:

To the Pilgrims and Puritans, the community-wide fast, or “day of public humiliation and prayer,” and the thanksgiving feast, or day of “public thanksgiving and praise,” were equal halves of the same ritual. But the fast was not merely a justification for a community-wide gorging. Both customs were important components of a religious rite that served to pacify an angry God who was believed to punish entire communities for the sins of the few with starvation, “excessive rains from the bottles of heaven,” epidemics, crop infestations, the Indian wars and other hardships.

According to the 19th-century historian William DeLoss Love, the New England colonies celebrated as many as nine such “special public days” a year from 1620 to 1700. And as the
Puritans were masters of self-denial, days of abstention outnumbered thanksgivings two to one. Fasting, Cotton Mather wrote, “kept the wheel of prayer in continual motion.”

I thought this was interesting because it once again illustrates how food obsessed our culture has become. Now-a-days if you mention to someone you're going on a fast, they look at you askance and write you off as some kind of new-age, freak.

But, fasting is part of the natural cycle, and our bodies were actually designed to go through periods of fast. It's the whole reason why we store the fat to begin with. Don't forget that the pilgrims underwent a forced fast the Winter prior to the first Thanksgiving.

The whole reason for the feasting around harvest and Christmas time (a ritual which pre-dates Christianity by thousands of years), was that once Winter hit, food was scarce. You ate in abundance around harvest time and the Winter Solstice because that's when the food was available, then lived off the fat you put on then until Spring when food started to become abundant again.

So, it is OK to indulge a little around the holidays. Just remember that it's also OK to fast a little afterwards. You can skip a meal or two, or even a whole day's worth of meals, and it's completely, totally natural.

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