Last Thursday in the US was Thanksgiving, not something we've ever observed in this country or across the Tasman, although I believe there is a Canadian Thanksgiving but observed one or two months before the US one. A friend of mine who comes from the US says that one of the advantages of US Thanksgiving is that it puts a barrier beyond which all the commercial Christmas frenzy can't go.
Oh bliss! because here in Australia XMAS, which is how I'll render the commercial, corporatised consumer festival of Christmas shopping, has been going for two to three weeks already. It was two weeks ago that I was meeting my elderly friend for his birthday in one of the suburban shopping centres to go to the movies. It was one of the big shopping megaplexes and although mid-November, the full XMAS frenzy was in full swing, decorations everywhere AND a musical ensemble parading around playing XMAS music, all suitably secular stuff to do with snow and winter cheer and Santa and stuff. Of course outside, temperatures were in the 30s Celsius.
I like Christmas and I'm happy to do things like cards and stuff. I like some of the seasonal foods and I enjoy a good midnight Mass with carols and all. Since most Anglican churches have a midnight Mass that ends around midnight instead of starting midnight, from 2004 I've been able on most years to do two midnight masses, starting at the local Anglican church and then ducking around the corner to the Roman one. Unfortunately, as I'm housesitting over Christmas in a neighbourhood where the Anglican and RC churches are too far apart and may not even have a midnight event anyway, I won't be able to do ecumenical midnight Mass this year (but I would strongly urge RCs and Anglicans in areas where their churches are very close together to coordinate their liturgies to allow for more such ecumenical inter-action).
However while I like Christmas, I really despise XMAS. Lets face it for capitalism, shopping has been elevated to the status of a sacrament and ironically, following the global financial crisis, it has also taken on an almost patriotic veneer too. All the Thanskgiving news reports out of the US spoke of how important strong Christmas spending was for the good of the US economy and likewise in this country we've had the same discourses of the importance of a strong shopping splurge as a measure of this country's economic well-being.
As someone who is a sessional worker XMAS can be a rather anxious time. I have no idea what work prospects I have for next year, not an unusual situation for me these days. My current work ends in three weeks time. So the prospect of being caught up in the XMAS shopping melee does not fill me with delight. I try to avoid it as much as possible. At least I try to buy gifts that aren't too expensive and, if I can, I stay away from the big department stores. Eventually I hope to do Christmas without the expectation of gifts, to eliminate XMAS as much as possible from the festive season
Nowadays, I'm becoming keen to rehabilitate Advent. I think there is a certain sense to the notion of preceding a festival with a time of preparation, one that actually involved cutting back on things, living more simply, less frenetically. In today's Age there was a story about the Parliament of World Religions. It's headline was to do with religious freedom and laws against apostasy but towards the end the story turned to the question of asceticism and fasting:
On the environment, Professor Pedersen 300 million people were already living with the effects of climate change. Global warming and resource depletion were going to force people to change how they lived.
''People see asceticism as extreme, people who sleep on beds of nails, are celibate and [who] fast. I'm scrutinising the idea of what is extreme. We think a 40-day fast is as much as the body can stand but a Korean Buddhist nun friend told me, 'It's no big deal, we all do it,' '' she said.
Asked for examples, Professor Pedersen said preaching at people was futile. ''But do you have to have a car? How many sets of clothing are enough? They say the meat industry contributes enormously to greenhouse gases, so eat less meat - there's an ascetic practice right there.''
Professor Pedersen, 63, who ran her most recent marathon a year ago, said the secret of restraint was training, like an athlete or musician.
''Don't think of it as self-denial, but what you can accomplish,'' she said.
Imagine if Roman Catholics, like their Orthodox cousins, went vegan in Lent and Advent (mind you I don't know how strictly most Orthodox observe the Lenten and Advent fasts). And rather than thinking of such practice as self-denial it could be regarded as a way of giving respect to the biosphere, of even slowing down the capitalist frenzy (although I'm sure it would eventually generate a frenzied market in vegan shopping sprees, such is the nature of the capitalist beast).
 Or if I was to do gifts they would be little surprises without any expectation of being in a gift giving round