Christmas Should be More Commercial

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.

jeunesse_de_Bacchus_web

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.

Coca Cola Commercial Christmas Ad

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.

Originally published in Capitalism Magazine in 1998. The content of this article was delivered annually at Christmas time on Peikoff’s radio show, starting in 1995.

  • Ricky Soliai

    Bunch of b.s.

  • devilof76

    I agree. The man has an abundantly Brilliant Sense of American culture.

  • IceTrey

    I hear the best secular Christmas is in Hong Kong.

  • writeby

    “The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men—a frame of mind which is not the exclusive property (though it is supposed to be part, but is a largely unobserved part) of the Christian religion.

    “The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: ‘Merry Christmas’—not ‘Weep and Repent.’ And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form—by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance . . . .

    “The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized.
    The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only “commercial greed” could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.”

    – Ayn Rand

  • veeper

    good will?

    in America….

    HA!! That’s real Hoot and a half……

  • TyPrice

    Perfect!

  • writeby

    Cogent argument.

  • writeby

    Bet you follow him around at school.

  • TyPrice

    The Reverse.

  • writeby

    Ah, a disciple. Nice when they turn out to be carbon copies, isn’t it.

  • http://touchstonesjests.blogspot.com/ TouchStone

    “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
    – John Adams, October 11, 1798

    Nuff Said.

  • writeby

    Adams’ idea of religious was that of a deist, not a Christian.

    And religion has no monopoly on morality. Indeed, there are three kinds of morality one may follow, depending upon one’s moral standard:

    Morality 1: deity as moral standard, whereby right is obedience and service to that deity.

    Morality 2: the state, community, fellow men as moral standard, whereby right is obedience and service to state, community, fellow men.

    Morality 3: human life as moral standard, whereby right is the preservation, nurturing and improvement of one’s life as a _*rationally* virtuous_ human being.

    The first two result in tyranny, war, genocide, and men groveling in fear before superstition, lord, emperor, king, commissar, bureaucrat, priest–and god.

    “He who fears god fears everything — earth and sea, air and sky, darkness and light, sound, silence and dreams” – Plutarch

    The third results in the pursuit of life affirming values, such as reason, purpose, self-esteem, self-respect, peace of mind and serenity, the goal of which is happiness–”non-contradictory joy.”

    The Founding Fathers knew this, which is why they formulated the concept of separation of church and state as part of the constitutional republic that is (was?) the political system of the United States.

    “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” — Treaty signed in 1797 by then-President John Adams

    “Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.” – James Madison

    “I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth.” –Thomas Jefferson

    “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.” –Thomas Jefferson

    “Fix reason firmly in her seat and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” — Thomas Jefferson

  • TyPrice

    The road of reason and logic is the same for everyone. No one argues over the definition of a chair haha. The only thing that separates anyone is misunderstanding!

  • TyPrice

    Adams was a federalist douche bag who instituted an income tax with Hamilton, the alien and sedition acts, and took the right of judicial review (Declaring a law unconstitutional) away from the juries. Then levied an unjust whiskey tax which led to the whiskey rebellion. Washington another federalist put it down harshly and unjustly!

    Jefferson said that the federalists had a counter revolution, counter to the principles fought for in the revolution. Jefferson when elected consequently was able to repeal everything they did wrong except for Judicial review. The constitution although a good limitation of government power had flaws in it like taxation. Because of this it was not ratified until the bill of rights written by George Mason an atheist and antifederalist was added. Adams and the federalists were all hard core christians following the philosophy of Immanuel Kant! Jefferson and the antifederalists were all deists and atheists! Both understood liberty to a certain extent but the federalists had a broad range of members and consisted mainly of mystics and monarchists, and some like adams who did not care much for morality or liberty!

  • http://touchstonesjests.blogspot.com/ TouchStone

    The first American federal income tax was imposed in 1861 – while Adams died in 1826.

    …I have neither the time nor inclination to point out the all rest of the points where you publicly stepped on your dick, so perhaps you should get a history book that WASN’T put together by anti-American
    revisionists, read it, and refrain from exposing yourself in public until you do.

  • http://touchstonesjests.blogspot.com/ TouchStone

    Sorry to intrude on your little fantasy with Logic, but before ANY of what you believe to be “true” can be taken for anything but supposition, you must FIRST answer the most obvious question:
    WHERE does “human morality” originate?
    What is the root?
    ….religion DEFINES human morality….nothing else ever has.
    The rest of what you write falls apart because it’s built on a false premise that somehow humanity magically agreed to some sort of “moral code” by trial and error.
    History – and Logic – disagree with you.

  • writeby

    Actually, the first question to ask re: ethics is: why does man need ethics?

    Primitive man answered that with: to appease the gods of wind, storm, etc. So the source of any sort of moral code arose, logically, not from religion but from superstition.

    Judaism later codified an ethical system but, again, limited it to appeasing a deity.
    Likewise the pagan Babylonian law code: Code of Hammurabi (1700 BCE).

    So identifying the source of morality only reveals that it arose when mankind was still worshiping sun gods and the like.

    The source of a formal code of ethics, sans a deity, arose in ancient Greece. Please direct your attention to Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics.

    http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html

    Finally, the answer to why does man need ethics will lead one to realize that morality–as religiously defined–is limited to obedience to a deity, rather than to the preservation and sanctity of human life. This leads some folks to declare that morality is social, that on a desert island, man would not need it. But it’s on a desert island that man would most need a code of morality. Indeed, if morality is the identification of right and wrong, then the practice of ethics becomes a daily, even minute-by-minute requirement. Not just obedience to a deity, but the ongoing practice of preserving and promoting one’s life.

    Toadstools or mushrooms–right or wrong?

    Demons or germs–right or wrong?

    Predestination (determinism) or free will (volition)–right or wrong?

    Tyranny or freedom–right or wrong?

    Reason or faith–right or wrong?

    &c.

  • writeby

    James Madison was the author of the Bill of Rights.

  • writeby

    True; but reasoning is volitional and man isn’t infallible; so the road is there but whether men choose to follow it and then, perhaps, regain it, or to get detoured or to take a different road alltogether (faith) is always a possibility.

    As for the chair, there are people in academe who contest the existence of, well, existence. A Jupiter sized contradiction they cannot–or will not–see.

    These are the folks to which both Dawkins & Orwell refer:

    “Reason has built the modern world. It is a precious but also a fragile thing, which can be corroded by apparently harmless irrationality. We must favor verifiable evidence over private feeling. Otherwise we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would obscure the truth.” (Richard Dawkins, The Enemies of Reason)

    “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”– George Orwell

  • mkkevitt

    No academics actually contest the existence of existence. They know better. They just talk like they contest it. Their students and the rest of us are supposed to believe
    their twaddle and contest it ourselves. Those academics have their ‘reasons’ for this. Mike Kevitt

  • writeby

    LOL .

  • mkkevitt

    I’d like to supplement writeby’s reply, below, to help you more.

    Your action to secure your life’s needs is good. Your not doing so is bad. You need to know what’s needed & how to get it. You need your thinking, stemming from your sensory perception, to learn that, just like any other science. This is the science of morality, the study of life’s needs, what they are & how to get them. That’s what morality is. We need it to maintain & improve our lives. In particular, the individual must learn how to do it in his relations with others. The good is rooted in the needs of human life. Morality is rooted in reason, thinking stemming from sensory perception geared to the needs of human life. The crowning touch of the good is acting upon your knowledge of morality, of the needs of human life, as a hermit & as a person in relations. One’s primary concern is the needs of his own life.

    Like I say, it’s a science. Humanity, indeed, doesn’t somehow magically agree to some ‘moral code’ by trial & error. Individuals learn it by guided, formal study and by themselves from ‘raw’ nature, but still by careful thought, hopefully without hard knocks. Mike Kevitt