Assumption of Mary is one of the biggest celebrations for the Catholic and Orthodox Christians all over the World. And it is just around the corner. In the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, the Day goes by the name Dormition or Sleeping of our Lady, and it is a Nameday celebration for all the women who carry the name Mary, Maria or Marie, by far the most popular female Christian name. Which basically means that everybody is invited to the feast, as everybody has at least one relative or acquaintance of that name. But Assumption of Mary is also a celebration of food abundance, and when it comes to food festivities, the Catholic and the Orthodox traditions are anything but austere and puritan in nature.
The holiday celebrates the ascendance of Mary to Heaven upon her death, for her body and soul to be reunited. Introduced around the 4th Century A.D., the purpose of the holiday was to be replace the earlier pagan harvest festival, as mid-August is the time of harvesting. In many regions around Europe, the day still goes by the name of “Feast of Our Lady of the Harvest”. It some areas it connected with the Blessing of Fruits and Herbs, in others of Wheat.
As we have previously written, all religions across the globe had a large section of their practices and rituals devoted to fertile harvesting and food abundance. Our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers for over 60,000 years, depending on their food on wild animals and plants that needed to be hoarded to survive the long cold winters. It is only between 9,500 and 3,500 B.C. that the transition to agricultural settlements gradually took place.
But despite the fact that farming provided a more structured method of food provision, it did not guarantee humanity the much sought after food security. Farming used to be severely influenced by negative conditions, such as droughts, floods, prolonged drops in temperatures, cattle, and crop epidemics and similar environmental hazards that lead to extended famine.
Up until very recently, our human civilization was constantly threatened by varying degrees of food insecurity. Our primary aim as humankind was to conquer the forces of nature, so as to minimize their adverse effect on the food supply. And that is where religion always comes in handy. Therefore, food security has always been a major theme in all faiths known to mankind. Practices range from animal sacrifices, feasts of abundance to meal prayers. All polytheistic religions had a special god in charge of agriculture and stock farming. Later, in Christianity for example, these functions were assigned to the various saints and endowed in regional celebrations.
Regardless of our religious sentiments and predisposition, it is obvious that occurring in the second part of summer, August 15th is fundamentally an ancient feast of food abundance and plenitude, a rite of passage to the upcoming cold and barren months. In many of the Christian countries, the Assumption of Mary is an official holiday and a time for a family and communal gatherings connected with festive food consumption. As we have mentioned before, religious holidays often go hand in hand with exuberant food preparation and result in a significant amount of food that left uneaten.
The Assumption of Mary is a holiday that is ultimately devoted to food abundance and blessing. Food waste should not be its evil twin.
In most modern households meal grace is a long lost practise. We are not suggesting to bring it back, which for many of us is a reminder of a bygone era. Yet, we urge you to realise, that we are those first historically lucky generations. We are food-wise extremely privileged, by no particular merit of ours, other than living in those parts of the world, where food insecurity is not an issue. For us, August 15th is a true blessing of plentitude, food abundance and food security.
Pope Francis, whose sayings tend to resonate as words of wisdom, way outside the Catholic community, guides us to avoid our ‘throwaway culture’. The pontiff has challenged us to shun the quest for more, more, more in favour of solidarity. His words can be related to the celebration of “The Feast of Our Lady of the Harvest”, as buying less, preparing less and sharing more with those less fortunate.
We can recall the words of the pontiff as we sit down to our family tables topped with plentitude, and remind ourselves that there are just under a billion (800 million) people who still live in hunger. “This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition,” the Pope says.
Yet, we waste enough food to feed those hungry four times over.“Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value,” the Pope speaks his words of caution.
So, on the occasion of today’s abundance celebrations let’s be grateful for the food we have and let’s resolve to do with less, because less means more, for all of us.
Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry