The Nativity fast, also called St. Philip’s Fast, begins in Orthodox churches of the Western world on 15 November. That is a set date annually and ends on December 24. In Eastern Europe and Asia the Nativity fast begins on 28 November each year and ends on Christmas Eve, 6 January.
This can be confusing so here is a review:
– Nativity fast in the West: began on 15 November
– Nativity fast is the East: begins on 28 November
The only country in the world doing their own thing is Armenia which celebrates Christmas on 6 January and thus their Nativity fast begins on 14 November and ends the 5th of January. As Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as their faith, perhaps they get to go first.
It is not unusual for those who have missed church many weeks throughout the year to play catchup around this time of season. Going to confession and visiting a Monastery for a few days of reflection are popular activities leading up to the New Year and then Christmas.
If your Russian speaking friend asks about your participation in the “post” they’re really talking about the fast. The term for a food fast is пост, post.
There is quite a difference between fasts from East to West. Usually in the West the only folks observing are dedicated believers. In the East it sometimes seems as if dedicated believers have come out of the woodwork from hiding. However here it is more of a custom to observe some of the traditions around Christmas and Easter which are the two major times of fasting. Government offices, public schools and restaurants adjust their menus during these seasons so that those who choose to fast can do so but no one is forced.
The fast is designed to somewhat replicate the diet of Christ’s 40 days in the desert and the Nativity is often called the little Pashka, or little Easter. As possible the observer should eat no meat except fish on certain Fridays, no eggs or dairy or alcohol. The fast is optional for those who are elderly, very young, sick or traveling and away from home.
For non-Russian speaking visitors who are interesting to see how a restaurant fasting menu looks, I recommend something like the Starlite Diner in Moscow. The Starlite is an Americana styled diner with great burgers, steaks and fries with yummy milkshakes but they kick out an impressive vegetarian menu during the fasting periods. They have 5 Moscow locations so here is a link to find them: http://www.starlite.ru/aboutstarlite.aspx?id=ourdiners&language=US
Seven days/seven restaurants was a contest among restaurants/bars in Vitebsk, Belarus, that competed for the best fasting menu. Pretty cool.
Next is one of Russia’s premier chefs who shows off his vegetarian menu dishes featuring eggplant, soup and a salad:
Finally, even Subway in Eastern Europe and Asia helps one observe the fast: