Today, Friday and Saturday are Ember Days. I had never heard of these (though “embertide” rings a faint bell) until I came across this tweet
In a way Fr Schrenk explains it well in this thread so unroll it for the full explanation, or look here or here. Essentially, Ember Days are 3 days in an “Ember Week”, which occurs four times in a calendar year and mark the commencement of seasons. The December days are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after St Lucy’s Day (13th December)
They are marked by practices such as fasting and abstinence, though specifics seem a little different depending on the online source. One site I came across suggested “minor” fasting, ie one full meal and two light meals (which sounds closer to a healthy intake than to a fast to me) as well as marking the day with appropriate prayer.
Traditionally, clergy were ordained during Ember Weeks.
“Ember” is not a reference to fire but a corruption of the Latin Quatuor Tempora meaning “four times.” In Irish, they are Laethanta na gCeithre Thráth – “days of the four times” – which preserves the sense of the Latin. Ember days seem to have got a little more attention in recent times as a form of collective repentance related to recent crises in the Church.
Separate from any theological or ecclesiastic practice, I am struck by the wisdom of observances that are tied with the cycle of the seasons and thereby of growth, death and renewal that follow the year. And I am struck by the wisdom of periods of restraint in consumption (which is what fasting is, as opposed to self-punishment) and of contemplation that relate fundamentally to the changes of the seasons. It is a cliché to bemoan the overcommercialisation of Christmas but it is salutary to recall that Advent was supposed to be a time of reflection, self-denial and preparation.
It seems a pity that the Ember Days practice has fallen into disuse in general. And again separate from any specific religious belief or affiliation, one wonders if the practice of Ember Days did help to connect people with the progress of the seasons (and if their abandonment is yet another marker of disconnection with nature) and whether for this reason observance of Ember Days is due a revival.