Christmas is not really about the myth of three astrologers trekking across the Middle East to see a magic baby. Nor is it about slopping gravy at a homeless shelter or plunking coins into a bucket outside a mall.
What Christmas is and should be about, and what permits us to celebrate as we do, is not religious or altruistic pretense, but scientific and economic progress.
Think about it. From whence came the department stores on whose sidewalks bell ringers stand? Or the farm machines, refrigeration, and supermarkets that beget stocked dinner tables? What enables you to buy your kid a bike or your spouse a watch? In fact, what makes possible bikes, watches, and a million other goods besides?
The answer, of course, is the freedom to profit.
Yet some of the very ones benefiting most from the profit motive have nothing for it but a “Bah humbug!” in the form of the familiar condemnation, “Christmas is too commercial.” Often via mass media– products of profit and commercialism– they criticize profit and commercialism!
Perhaps what these anti-commercial Ebenezers need is a little chain-rattling visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past.
The earliest Christians weren’t particularly interested in observing Jesus’ birthday (a date uncertain anyway), for they expected the Second Coming any moment. Indeed, thanks to Christianity teaching men to stay focused on the afterlife, humanity hobbled along like Tiny Tim for over a thousand years. There were no twinkling lights brightening the Dark Ages and the only “rampant consumerism” was disease rampantly consuming human bodies. Serfs worked fields they could never own; women were sock-darning baby factories; half the children never reached age five.
Joy-starved and tired of waiting for no-show Jesus, people turned his “birthday” into a festive occasion– and were promptly denounced as “worldly.” In fact, in 1659, dour Massachusetts Puritans actually outlawed the celebration of Christmas– a ruling that stood for over two decades.
Christians tout suffering and self-sacrifice. Well, that’s precisely what the Christian ethic stuffed in mankind’s collective stocking.
Disturbed by the past? Perhaps then the Ghost of Christmas Present will calm.
Despite religion’s influence and because of capitalism, we now live amidst prosperity unimaginable during Christianity’s hey-day. Medical breakthroughs occur almost daily, communication is instantaneous, and you can cross a continent within hours. Even the average poor person in America– with a car, TV, microwave oven, phone, heat and air-conditioning, indoor plumbing, and electric lights– has a standard of living besting all the monarchs of old.
But progress is not inevitable. Tomorrow’s events proceed from today’s ideas, as the Ghost of Christmas Future will show– a future where people take seriously the admonition that Christmas is too commercial.
“Folks, no bonuses this December,” your boss announces, “nor any of that overtime pay you’ve come to expect. Management now concurs with the widely held notion that Christmas is too commercial, so there’ll be no special advertising or extended shopping hours. Why detract from the true ‘reason for the season,’ right? But that also means less revenue – and less need for us.”
“Which leads to my next point,” he continues, “Like most other companies these days, we’ll be ‘letting go’ employees and giving their salaries to homeless shelters – which seem to be the only ones thriving lately. But then Christmas is about sacrifice not personal gain, right? Well, praise Jesus, sacrifice we will!”
If that ever happened, the same commercialism-bashing scrooges currently scowling at the profit motive would then be waving their canes at Business for not prospering.
However, the lesson of the “ghosts” is clear: The material goods supporting you and your loved ones are created ultimately by self-interested capitalists applying science to life and profiting from it, a process magnified during Christmas. Profits, not prophets, allow Christmas giving– and year-round living. The dollar sign, not mystical icons, deserves to top one’s tree.