Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sacred Feasting

Here in America, we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, which in many ways I think of as our biggest feast day.  We gather together on other holy days to feast and celebrate, but Thanksgiving is pretty much all about the feast.  We celebrate and honor the things we are grateful for, all the blessings in our lives, but we do this through sharing food and community with each other.

I think there is something very special about a shared meal.  Food brings people together in ways that go much deeper than just filling our bellies.  For many of us, food has deep emotional ties, especially special feast foods:  foods that we may only really eat at a particular time or holy day.

So what makes a meal a sacred feast?  I feel that they key factor is recognizing the moment.  We can feast at a lot of different events.  We feast for birthdays, weddings, funerals and births.  We feast to celebrate accomplishments or to recognize life events.  We feast on holy days.  They key is that we view the meal as a special thing, not just a part of our regular daily routine.

When I was little, we typically ate dinner in the dining room.  We would sit and talk about our day as we ate.  Today, mealtime is often either a rushed thing, or spent watching a show.  I see a lot of families that may be physically together but each lost in their own world, often distracted by their phones or devices.

On a family level, many of us still celebrate family with feasting on holidays, or just a special family dinner.  Family dinners I think are great bonding times.  We set aside that time to sit and eat with each other, to connect and catch up with what has been going on in our lives.

Planning a sacred feast isn't as intimidating as it may sound!  The first thing you will want to think about is who you will be feasting with.  A sacred feast can be shared with family, with friends, with our beloved dead, with pets, with strangers...or even on your own!  I think we tend to associate the word feast with either family or a big formal celebration, but you can make any meal sacred if you slow down and set the intention for it.  Each sacred feast has it's own energy, and while the energy of a feast by yourself is quite different than one that is held at a family reunion, it can be just as moving.

Once you know who will be there, you can start thinking about what you will be celebrating.  There may be a special day you are honoring, and if there is, think about what that day means.  It is easy to forget the true essence of a holiday because we celebrate it every year.  We think about Christmas dinner, but do we stop and think about what that dinner means to us?  The things that have happened in the past year may influence how we approach the holiday feast.  Our focus may have shifted, and we may want to plan our feast to honor the emotions you are feeling and not just the general theme of the holiday.

There might not be a specific day tied to your feast.  You may just want to gather friends or family together because you haven't seen them in a while.  One thing that can be really fun for this kind of feast is to have a theme!  It could be a food theme, like all finger foods or childhood favorites, or it could be a theme based off of a favorite tv show or game.  You may want to invite people to dress up to match the theme, or bring some kind of decoration to help set the mood.

While food can be a huge part of a feast, I don't feel special food is necessary to make a meal a sacred feast.  If your means are limited, you can feast with whatever food you have!  But, many of us have special dishes that we love to make for feasts.  Many holidays have 'traditional' foods that are often included in the feasting, like turkey and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.  Your family can also have their own traditional foods.  We typically have deviled eggs at every holiday.

There is a saying that the best food is made with love, and I truly believe this.  When we make food, especially for people who are important to us, we infuse the food with our emotions.  But even if you don't know the people you are cooking for, you can charge the food with your good intentions!  When I cook, I want the people who eat my food to be blessed, to feel happy and comforted.  It doesn't matter if I know them or not.

Sometimes the host of the feast will provide all the food, but often guests will bring dishes to contribute to the feast.  I love potluck feasts.  I think it not only adds to the connection as you get to try all the other people's dishes, but it helps spread out the work which means that everyone gets to enjoy the feast instead of having a couple of people feel like they have to do everything.

Atmosphere is also important for a sacred feast.  You don't have to make things super fancy, although you absolutely can if you feel like it!  But I think a very important thing is that people who are feasting should be focused on the feast.   It is a time to celebrate with each other (or alone!) and if people are distracted, trying to check their social media or watching the television, they aren't actually participating in the feast.

I think the one exception to this is when the purpose of the feast is tied into the entertainment.  For example, if you are wanting to get together with your friends and watch the big football game, that can still be a sacred feast!  Just make sure to have time before and/or after the game to connect with each other!  Many families have a favorite movie that they like to watch at holidays.  You may find that you enjoy your feasting better if you save the movie for after you eat.  Or, plan on having either snacks before or desert after, when people can talk and spend time together.

One of the things I absolutely loved doing when I was little was setting a fancy table.  We had a set of actual silverware, and I was allowed to put it out...if I was willing to polish it before and after, which was something I was happy to do.  Setting out the silver always made things feel so special and fancy to me.  You don't need silver though to set a special table!  There are lots of ways to add a little sense of celebration to your table.

Candles are always a lovely way to dress up a table, and you can often find ones that fit whatever theme you like, even if you are just picking out the right color.  Adding some kind of flowers or other natural arrangement can be both simple and beautiful.  If you have glass bowls or vases, you can fill them with fruit, decorative stones, or nuts to make a centerpiece.  I love putting garlands in containers, it adds sparkle and makes things look very festive.

We don't need to save sacred feasting for only big occasions either.  Date night is a perfect sacred feast.  You can make a meal a sacred feast when you go out to dinner or if you stay in.  Sometimes I will make myself a sacred feast when I am home alone, when I just need to take a little time for myself, some self-care.  I'll pick some food that feels just right that day, and use a special plate or cup.  I always think that when hubby and son go out together, just the two of them, that they have their own version of a sacred boys night feast!

So as we come into the full holiday season, from Thanksgiving through New Year's, let's remember to slow down and make the most of our sacred feasting!  Think about what the people you are eating with mean to you.  Think about what the occasion brings up for you.  Think about how the food makes you feel.  Take time to honor these things, to recognize how important they are to you and to acknowledge the blessings they bring into your life.  Don't just eat, Feast!

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