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Randians: Christmas Should Be More Commercial

by Leonard Peikoff
Ayn Rand Institute
WHY CHRISTMAS SHOULD BE MORE COMMERCIAL
Christmas should celebrate reason, selfishness and capitalism

Christmas in America is an exuberant display of human ingenuity,
capitalist productivity, and the enjoyment of life. Yet all of these
are castigated as "materialistic"; the real meaning of the holiday,
we are told, is assorted Nativity tales and altruist injunctions
(e.g., love thy neighbor) that no one takes seriously.

In fact, Christmas as we celebrate it today is a 19th-century
American invention. The freedom and prosperity of post Civil War
America created the happiest nation in history. The result was the
desire to celebrate, to revel in the goods and pleasures of life on
earth. Christmas (which was not a federal holiday until 1870) became
the leading American outlet for this feeling.

Historically, people have always celebrated the winter solstice as
the time when the days begin to lengthen, indicating the earth's
return to life. Ancient Romans feasted and reveled during the
festival of Saturnalia. Early Christians condemned these Roman
celebrations--they were waiting for the end of the world and had only
scorn for earthly pleasures. By the fourth century the pagans were
worshipping the god of the sun on December 25, and the Christians
came to a decision: if you can't stop 'em, join 'em. They claimed
(contrary to known fact) that the date was Jesus' birthday, and
usurped the solstice holiday for their Church.

Even after the Christians stole Christmas, they were ambivalent about
it. The holiday was inherently a pro-life festival of earthly
renewal, but the Christians preached renunciation, sacrifice, and
concern for the next world, not this one. As Cotton Mather, an
18th-century clergyman, put it: "Can you in your consciences think
that our Holy Savior is honored by mirth? . . . Shall it be said that
at the birth of our Savior . . . we take time . . . to do actions
that have much more of hell than of heaven in them?"

Then came the major developments of 19th-century capitalism:
industrialization, urbanization, the triumph of science--all of it
leading to easy transportation, efficient mail delivery, the
widespread publishing of books and magazines, new inventions making
life comfortable and exciting, and the rise of entrepreneurs who
understood that the way to make a profit was to produce something
good and sell it to a mass market.

For the first time, the giving of gifts became a major feature of
Christmas. Early Christians denounced gift-giving as a Roman
practice, and Puritans called it diabolical. But Americans were not
to be deterred. Thanks to capitalism, there was enough wealth to make
gifts possible, a great productive apparatus to advertise them and
make them available cheaply, and a country so content that men wanted
to reach out to their friends and express their enjoyment of life.
The whole country took with glee to giving gifts on an unprecedented
scale.

Santa Claus is a thoroughly American invention. There was a St.
Nicholas long ago and a feeble holiday connected with him (on
December 5). In 1822, an American named Clement Clarke Moore wrote a
poem about a visit from St. Nick. It was Moore (and a few other New
Yorkers) who invented St. Nick's physical appearance and personality,
came up with the idea that Santa travels on Christmas Eve in a sleigh
pulled by reindeer, comes down the chimney, stuffs toys in the kids'
stockings, then goes back to the North Pole.

Of course, the Puritans denounced Santa as the Anti-Christ, because
he pushed Jesus to the background. Furthermore, Santa implicitly
rejected the whole Christian ethics. He did not denounce the rich and
demand that they give everything to the poor; on the contrary, he
gave gifts to rich and poor children alike. Nor is Santa a champion
of Christian mercy or unconditional love. On the contrary, he is for
justice--Santa gives only to good children, not to bad ones.

All the best customs of Christmas, from carols to trees to
spectacular decorations, have their root in pagan ideas and
practices. These customs were greatly amplified by American culture,
as the product of reason, science, business, worldliness, and egoism,
i.e., the pursuit of happiness.

America's tragedy is that its intellectual leaders have typically
tried to replace happiness with guilt by insisting that the spiritual
meaning of Christmas is religion and self-sacrifice for Tiny Tim or
his equivalent. But the spiritual must start with recognizing
reality. Life requires reason, selfishness, capitalism; that is what
Christmas should celebrate--and really, underneath all the pretense,
that is what it does celebrate. It is time to take the Christ out of
Christmas, and turn the holiday into a guiltlessly egoistic,
pro-reason, this-worldly, commercial celebration.

_____________________________________________________________________

Leonard Peikoff, who founded the Ayn Rand Institute, is the foremost
authority on Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
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