(today I fasted for gratitude and empathy)
Today – Christmas Eve, as I write this – I’ve decided to fast. Drinking is allowed, but only if it has no calories – so that’s tea and water for me – and I decided coffee would be cheating a bit too. No food all day though. Actually, I ate some cake when I got home last night at half past midnight, so the bit that matters is the awake period, so no food until waking up on Christmas day.
Why? It comes as part of my general thinking about eating. I’ve also done a lot of thinking about ‘how much dead animal and animal products do I eat’ (short answer: nearly vegan but not actually, so a handful of meat portions per month, plenty of eggs, a bit of dairy as an ingredient). I arrived at my parents house for Christmas and was thinking about food over Christmas and remembered that last year, I fasted on Christmas Eve. I hadn’t been thinking about it much this year, but remembered last year’s new tradition and decided to do it again.
I had been thinking about fasting for years, partly due to knowing about fasting in many religious groups and also due to a non-religious friend who had good experiences from it. I tried once a few years ago, but it was affecting my work to much so I gave up at 5pm. Last year, I finally got round to doing my first ever 24-hour fast, and I gave it another go this year. As well as the gratitude and empathy it helps to develop, it’s also a good mental and physical challenge, building resilience and – I guess – making it easier to be hungry in normal life.
The amount of food we have at Christmas is absurd. We – talking as ‘we’ for ‘middle class and above England’, I know there are many in the UK who do not have plentiful food – have a lot of nice food, family feasts and work dinners and cakes and treats, as well as drinks on top of this. It isn’t healthy and it is often quite wasteful.
I’m not having a go at feasting. It’s nice. I guess it’s a way of celebrating the good times and something to look forward to when food was short for the rest of the times. It certainly feels very good at an animal-human level to be full of lots of food. I’m not that against it, and nor do I actually think that food waste is one of the big problems of our times and something I put much energy into.
However, I think we don’t really appreciate our feasting. We take it for granted. Most of the year, we eat pretty plentifully, filling ourselves each meal. Though a couple of times this year my budget has been tight or I’ve skipped a meal because I’ve been busy with other things, I can pretty much always eat as much as I want, whether from the supermarket a few minutes from my flat or while out and about.
So, going hungry a bit can help to build appreciation for the feast. Part of why I chose Christmas Eve to fast is because it’s so close to Christmas Day, so I can appreciate that meal. And also that I can eat more on Christmas Day. But also, it’s that I don’t usually have to do much on Christmas Eve (I did help in the kitchen for half an hour, but of course my mum does most of the preparation), so fasting doesn’t get in the way of trying to work etc.
As well as this personal gratitude, it’s also about broader empathy and having a better emotional understanding of what life is like for some other people. Many people spend a lot of time hungry, whether that’s through poverty or homelessness or as a refugee, and fasting helps to be reminded of them.
The Christmas spirit of love and giving is great. We don’t just feel this for our family, but also for people beyond this. Helping the homeless, inviting strangers round, giving presents to newly born refugees sleeping in a stable, and so on. That’s some sort of political spirit of Christmas, and I think that’s the sort of feeling we should extend round the whole year. I guess I’ll have a new year’s reminder, as most years, to spend more time with family and cultivate more love and joy in my life.
Fasting has been ok. It’s been easy to know that tomorrow I eat and that I don’t have to do much today. This morning I felt quite sick, but that’s because of an acidic stomach without any food. Hunger came in waves and I haven’t been all that focused, but I could do chores, write this and play a game of Game of Thrones Board game. I have thought about food quite a lot today and been tempted a few times with ‘why am I bothering to do this?’. It’s not like it’s that difficult, but I think it does add a lot to the christmas experience.