The Tradition of fasting in anticipation for the Nativity of the Lord is not unique to the Eastern Churches - the Latin Rite of the Church had observed this practice for centuries. Latin Rite Catholics today may certainly still observe fasting during this time to spiritually prepare themselves for Christmas.
Beginning with Vespers on November 15th, the Nativity Fast continues until just before Vespers on Christmas Eve. As with all periods of fasting, Fasting is forbidden on Sundays. Due to many popular feast days occurring between now and December 9th, many places began to adapt the fast to begin on December 10th. Latin Rite Catholics traditionally fasted on the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception (December 7th) and on the Vigil of the Nativity (December 24th). Those two days should still be observed by Roman Catholics. In years when these days fall on a Sunday, fasting is suppressed.
The fast's purpose is to spiritually prepare the soul for drawing closer to God. Along with our fasting, we must increase our own prayer life, almsgiving, and good works. Fasting without increased prayer should never be done.
The guidelines for the Nativity fast, in most of the Eastern Catholic churches, are as follows:
All days except Sundays, from November 15 to December 12:
• Abstinence from: All Meats, Dairy Products and Eggs – no animal products.
• No abstinence from: Shellfish, Grains, Vegetables & Vegetable Products, Olive Oil; Fruit, Wine On Sundays fish is allowed until the final week of the Nativity Fast. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the usual year-round restrictions apply.
December 13 to 24:
• Abstinence from: All Meat Products, Dairy Products, Eggs, Fish, Olive Oil, Wine
• No abstinence from: Vegetables & Vegetable Products, Fruits and Grains
On Wednesdays and Fridays, food should not be eaten between meals, and meals themselves should be moderate in size. It is often customary to eat only one meal a day. During the Nativity Fast, from December 13 to December 24 inclusive, the Fast becomes stricter, and olive oil and wine are permitted only on Saturdays and Sundays. Fish is not permitted from the 13th to the 24th.
Because of the Tradition of Fasting on Christmas Eve in the Roman Catholic Church, that evening is traditionally observed by the Feast of 7 Fishes.
Above all, this time of year as we approach Advent, consider the End of Times and our own Judgment, and await the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, let us embrace some fasting. Fasting on Wednesday and Fridays during this time is preferrable to not fasting at all. Consult your spiritual director and consider undertaking more fasting, almsgiving, and prayer during this preparation time. And when Christmas comes, let us celebrate it joyfully and festively throughout January and until Candlemas on February 2nd. While the world celebrates too early and ceases celebrating on the 2nd day of Christmas, let us not make that same grave mistake.
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