By Iván Flores
Christmas is the most visible Christian holiday in the secular world, but it is hardly recognized as a religious day in popular culture. Many Evangelical Christians and Catholics take offense to the politically correct term “Happy Holidays.” But that saltiness is misplaced and unnecessary because, as far as Christian holidays go, the Christmas season has paled in importance to Lent and Easter for the past 1600 years. The time between Mardi Gras and Easter Sunday is largely ignored by mainstream culture. Protestants and Catholics place varying degrees of emphasis on it. But for Orthodox Christians, Lent is the most important time of the year and Easter is even better than Christmas.
Consider this. How do you get ready for a wedding, a birth, a family gathering, a long trip, a party, a football game, a performance, or even a test? We rarely go into these things without at least trying to prepare in some way. Even procrastinators cram the night before a test. But there are some things that we just can’t do without getting ready. We can’t run marathons, climb mountains, or get perfect ACT scores without dedicating significant amounts of time and effort.
For Eastern Orthodox Christians, Lent is that period of preparation. It goes beyond praying more than usual, giving up something we enjoy, or abstaining from meat on Fridays. We do pray, and we go to church during the week. We give up enjoyable things, and we forego fish, meat, animal products, alcohol, and even olive oil for the duration of Lent. But as St. John Chrysostom said, “what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers?”
Lent is about ridding ourselves of habits harmful to ourselves and the people around us: cheating, lying, complaining, jealousy, stealing, gossiping, overeating, laziness, selfishness, lustfulness, intolerance, anger, among other things. But it is also a time for trying to earn virtues like patience, discipline, love, honesty, humility, commitment, and faith. And all of this has a purpose: getting ready for Easter.
The Resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. It is what we celebrate on Easter. After 40-something days of praying, fasting, and hopefully becoming better people, we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. At midnight, all the lights go out in our churches, and the priest emerges with a single candle. The flame is shared with everyone in the church, until there sanctuary is full of light. This tradition has remained unchanged for over a thousand years. The Lenten fast has been around for even longer, since the very inception of Christianity.
Although more emphasis has been placed by Protestants on Christmas in recent years, long before Protestantism was thought of and Pope declared himself infallible, the Christian calendar revolved around Easter. What makes Easter great, apart from the religious implications is the food. Why is it better than Christmas? Because no one makes you go more than a month without pizza or chocolate before Christmas, that’s why. You get sick of almond milk and tofu after a while.