Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you who you are,” the French essayist Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote. It is true that we are what eat. Preparation, cooking, and eating food are a basic part of human existence. What we eat forms our very existence.
From the beginning, Christians have had a particular way of eating. Our worship experiences have always been marked by food: bread and wine. You cannot have a party without food. And the Christian faith is best described as a religion of feasts. Jesus said as much in the gospels, “Who can fast when the bridegroom is with them?” The Christian faith is a celebration of the nearness of God in Jesus Christ. It is, therefore, a faith that is marked by feasts and preparations for feasts, known as fasts.
Christians have a particular way of cooking that reminds us of Christ’s presence in the world. This “memoir cookbook” is a spiritual guide for those interested in eating like a Christian. It uses ancient and modern recipes that tell the story of the Christian faith and invite the cook and revelers into a deeper relationship with God in Jesus Christ. There are too many dishes and holy days to include them all in our journey. We have included only a few here for some of the major days. Each of the meals has theological, cultural, and seasonal components. They are designed to bring the spiritual experience in from church to your kitchen and dining room table. They are meant to help teach our children the stories of our faith, and to invite each feaster into the story of Jesus and the saints. These recipes are stepping stones on a spiritual journey. We hope that you will invite many into these stories and in them we all will encounter the living Christ. We hope that you will find that all food can be sacramental and that together with our family, friends, and even strangers around the table you will find Christ, who is the great host.
What makes Christian eating different is the calendar. There are many ways of keeping time. We mark time by special events and disasters, before the pandemic or after, before the storm or after. We mark time by politics, presidential terms, and election seasons. Sometimes we mark them by the life span of individuals, organizations, and even civilizations—the early, middle, or late year. Annual calendars are often marked with civic celebrations that celebrate one’s country — Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Martin Luther King Day are all examples. And other calendars are shaped by academic years and semesters. Probably the most basic way of keeping time is to mark the changes in the seasons. Nature has a way of teaching us a cyclical nature of time. Even as time moves forward, it spirals in cyclical patterns.
Keeping time matters because it gives us a sense of purpose. Ecclesiastes tells us that “for everything there is a season.” Some periods of time are designated to scatter stone and some to gather, some to tear down and some to build up. It is important to know what time it is so that we know what we should be doing. Furthermore, time keeping helps us work together for the common good. When we keep the same calendar, we are able to celebrate together and build stronger communities. Finally, calendar keeping offers ways of telling the stories that shape a community. We are shaped by tales of our common origin, our matriarchs and patriarchs, and our heroes of old. Calendars shape us into a community, instilling identity and values.
For Christians, calendar keeping is the way that we sanctify time. The basis of the Christian calendar is the life of Christ. Keeping the calendar is way of living into and living out of the life of Christ. The year cycles on the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And then throughout the year we have special days that celebrate community like the birth of the church at Pentecost, or those who have died but still live at All Saints. The calendar is also punctuated with the lives of the saints. These are women and men who lived holy lives and set examples for us to follow. Telling their stories inspires us to live holy lives.
One of the chief ways that Christians around the world have celebrated the Church year is by fasting (then feasting.) Fasts are periods of time that help us prepare for a great feast. They are times of introspection, confession, and repentance. During these seasons some Christians avoid meats, sweets, or other items. During the major celebrations of the year Christians feast. Feasts are celebrations with lots of food and merriment. They remind us that the Christian faith is primarily a celebration.
Buried in the church is also the seasonal calendar. Jesus was crucified at Passover, a Jewish celebration of springtime at the vernal equinox. The celebration of his birth was placed nine months before Passover because that is the human gestational period. This conveniently placed Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s in the midst of winter celebration at the winter solstice. Other seasonal dates were integrated with the inclusion of Celtic Christian festivals. The Celtic Christians marked the year in eight segments marking the half way point between the equinoxes and solstices. These intermediated days now are still celebrated with Christian feasts like All Saints (Halloween) half way between Fall and Winter, and St. Bridgid Day (February 1) or Candlemas (Groundhog Day)(February 2) halfway between Winter and Spring. There is St. Georges day (April 23) and May Day (May 1) mid way between Spring and Summer. Then there is the more obscure Loaf Mass Day (August 1) or the Feast of St. Peter in Chains (August 1.) These Christian celebrations were ways of marking the seasons for sowing and harvesting. They made holy days that had agricultural importance further connecting the believer to the land and creation. The imagery of Jesus’ birth near the longest night of the year gave real spiritual meaning to the coming of the light of the world as days now grow longer. And the Festival of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist exactly six months before (as scripture states) places his birth at the summer solstice, where the days grow shorter harkening back to the Baptizers words, “I must decrease and he must increase.” Roughly the second half of the year is about our egos getting out of the way, so that in the first half of the year we can let Christ in.
It is not surprising then that the foods surrounding Christian festivals are very seasonal. The harvest time for various foods differentiate by climate, geography, and season, so Christian days are marked in different ways around the world. However, everywhere there is emphasis on in-season food as a celebration of God’s bounty.
We hope that you enjoy this journey through the Christian year, and with us learn to cook and eat like a Christian. We hope that in these pages: the stories, the recipes, and the pictures you are aided in your spiritual journey to God.