Comment: When you live within a culture, there's a tendency to take its trappings for granted. I very much doubt, for example, that there's ever been a fish who asked him or herself, "How come there's all this water around here?"

People here take for granted that Christmas is celebrated in mid-summer, and while Santa swelters in his red suit, the rest are happier to remain cooler in singlets and short pants.

For those of us, like myself, transplants from a colder climate, it's hard to get my head fully around the season. Even after two decades it still feels strange to hear Jingle Bells without snow.

During those two decades I've noticed a decided change in the way Christmas is celebrated here.


What was a quiet, reverential holiday season with the emphasis on peace, calm and religion has become a more hurried and stressful time with the emphasis on shopping.

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New Zealand has come to follow the American model, even bringing it forward a little. By convention the American Christmas shopping season begins on Black Friday, the day after the American Thanksgiving Holiday, whereas here, the stores are jammed with lollies, prezzies and shoppers as soon as the weather turns warm.

Back in the States, if you ask people what is their favourite holiday, it's not Christmas but Thanksgiving they'll choose. Less stressful, less disappointing, they'll offer. And the statistics bear out those impressions.

Thanksgiving. That's when family and friends and neighbours gather together for an afternoon of playful relaxation followed by a hearty meal. The focus, as the name suggests, is an experience and expression of gratitude for the bounty of the season and the year.

Thanksgiving had its start in 16th century England as a combination of religious holiday and harvest festival. But in the American colonies, the early 17th century version begins with the story of colonists and natives getting together over shared food that the Indians provided.

The holiday's secular nature became established when President Lincoln proclaimed a thanksgiving in 1863, as a respite from the ongoing civil war.

Then, during the Great Depression, President Roosevelt proclaimed the national observance for the last Thursday in November, later changed with the country at war to the fourth Thursday in November.

Jay Kuten Photo / File
Jay Kuten Photo / File

In our house and among our friends here, we have brought the tradition of Thanksgiving forward to Whanganui as a gathering of kindred spirits.

In the spirit of that coming occasion there are many things for which I'm grateful.

The act of ageing takes away the focus on small annoyances. As time goes by I am buoyed and grateful for the simple things in living.

I'm glad to be above the ground, breathing, walking (with assistance sometimes), having enough to eat and the appetite to make that a pleasure, and to get the rest of a good night's sleep.

The joys of family and the pleasure both in their company and their progress through life is a priceless gift. So, too, the company and and time shared with friends.

This city has given me the benefits of the generosity of a number of its inhabitants. In their willingness to share their knowledge and skills and their friendship, they allowed me eventually to become a part of, and share in the responsibility for its maintenance and its growth.

Having been witness to a time of economic doldrums and drift, it's gratifying to watch as its prosperity grows.

Two particular engines of future growth are the settlement of iwi claims along with the acknowledgement of the unique importance of our river, the heart of the city, and the government's pledge of the money to make our Sarjeant's revitalisation a reality.

Both are investments in our future, multipliers of attractants to the city.

No city is without problems, especially as we see the potential effects of climate change.

That's where I'm especially grateful for our young people. I'm pleased to believe that those who'll soon succeed us have the wit to know where to lead us.

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.