Opinion & Features

Advent diary: Feasts and Famine

A child says grace before tucking into her Thanksgiving Day dinner (PA)

It is Thanksgiving Day in America (Thursday, November 26) – and increasingly here in Britain, too. It’s never going to catch on like Halloween, of course, because it is neither degenerate nor aimed at middle-class children and their yummy mummies. Still, it is growing in popularity. Waitrose reports that turkey pre-orders for Thanksgiving weekend were up 15 per cent this year. Last year it was reported that there had been a 95 per cent jump in sales since 2009. “Turkey is not just for Christmas,” says a Waitrose spokesman. Gobble, gobble. At this rate it won’t be long before we start to celebrate Independence Day.

Today’s feast was first celebrated in November, 1621, a year after the English pilgrims had arrived in what is now Massachusetts on the Mayflower. They gave thanks to God for a good harvest and also, quite possibly, for inter-racial harmony. In any case, pilgrims shared their feast with 90 Native Americans, and much wild turkey was consumed.

The Mayflower pilgrims were not, however. the first to give thanks in North America. That distinction goes to the Spaniards who, on September 8, 1565, landed in what is now St Augustine, in Florida. The next day their chaplain said Mass and that was followed by a feast which they shared with native Americans. It was a fairly modest affair, since the Spaniards had only just arrived after a long sea voyage. The meal consisted of a stew of salted pork and garbanzo beans, accompanied with ship’s bread and red wine.

Friday, November 27

It is Black Friday, another American import, and also the feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Black Friday takes precedence, of course. In America it has become a big sales day. In Britain, the dutiful and observant consumers are now doing their bit, and last week boosted the economy by an estimated £1 billion. Most of that was spent online. Oxford Street on Friday morning was quiet, and business in the shops was far from brisk, but at least we were spared the scenes of eye-gouging and headbutting that accompanied the rush for bargains (mostly giant TVs, it seemed) last year. Pity…

Not all retailers recognise BF, thank God, and I was cheered by the robust response of Oddbins in Balham, where a poster alerted customers to their sales policy: “BLACK FRIDAY SALE: WAS £7.55. NOW £7.55”. I have had a soft spot for Oddbins ever since the days when they sold a big butch South African red called “Goats do Roam”, having early caused much merriment and not a few headaches with a big butch Australian red called Kanga Rouge.

Saturday, November 28

What advice might we give to David Cameron about his plan to bring peace and sanity to Syria? “Oi, Dave,” we might say, “if you want to kick ass, you’ve got to have boots on the ground.” Almost certainly, though, Andrew Bacevich has a better idea, which is to leave well alone.

“For Western governments to reflexively visit further violence on [the Middle East] represents not a policy but an abdication of policy,” he wrote in last week’s Spectator. Bacevich is a graduate of West Point and served in Vietnam.

These days, however, he has no time for liberal interventionism – he describes himself as a conservative Catholic – and campaigned against the Iraq War from Shock and Awe to ignominious withdrawal.

Sunday, November 29

Advent at last. If you want to say the Daily Office – or at least part of it – try universalis.com.

It has everything you could possible want, and it is free. I’ll probably be using Magnificat, because you can carry it about with you. Here in the meantime is a date for your diary: on Gaudete Sunday (December 13), St Bede’s Church, Clapham Park, will have an especially joyful traditional Latin Mass. Charles Finch and his superb Cantores Missae will be in the choir loft and the music will be by Byrd, Victoria and Guerrero. It is now just over 20 years since St Bede’s became a centre for the old Latin Mass, and in the latest edition of The Mass of Ages, the very handsome and free quarterly magazine of the LMS, Fr Christopher Basden, the parish priest, has a fascinating piece about his battle for tradition. But there is more to life than Latin, and he has not neglected the English Mass, which is now celebrated ad orientem. Perhaps some parishioners took a little time to get used to it, but I cheered.

Monday, November 30

Feast of the Apostle St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, and the first weekday of Advent. Let the fast begin. It is not yet nine and I have already had four mugs of tea, an apple and a piece of gum, but no breakfast. One of the good things about fasting during Advent is that you may be fit and trim enough to tackle the January sales with the energy they deserve.