Ayn Rand on Christmas

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.

From the Ayn Rand Lexicon.

Comments

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'The charming aspect of Christmas is that it celebrates good will in a...non-sacrificial way.'

Looks like Rand missed the concept of opportunity cost of gift buying on this one.

So *everything* is sacrificial because *everything* has an opportunity cost?

I don't buy it. It is sacrificial when the costs outweigh the benefits, not when there are costs.

Well by your definition of the word sacrifice, you would never rational sacrifice anything, ever. That doesn't make any sense.

Even if you do want to go by your definition, Rand is still wrong. People give and receive gifts that aren't wanted by the recipient all the time.

"Well by your definition of the word sacrifice, you would never rational sacrifice anything, ever."

Voluntarily, this sentence is perfectly correct. Collectivists are in the business of convincing men to create powerful public institutions which force other men to "sacrifice".

All I'm saying is that, in modern usage, sacrifice means to give up something for something else. I have no idea why Rand thinks gift giving at Christmas time is immune to this reality.

Perhaps, Rand's definition of "sacrificial" is linked to the concept of "weep and repent". Examples of sacrifice might include fasting, giving up something for Lent, and self-flagellation. Many such religious rituals involve suffering for suffering's sake, which seems fundamentally different from exchanging gifts. Even though giving a gift may have an opportunity cost, one is bearing that cost to bring joy to someone else, not to punish oneself.

This was also found in Anny Rand's personal letters after she reread her statement.

"If I have a wallet, with dollars in it, and I feel obligated to give you a present because of social norms, please tell me how I could have said: "The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, NON-SACRIFICIAL way. (emphasis added).

If I take out a dollar from my wallet, I am sacrificing a dollar for the pleasure of someone else.

Horrid."

Merry Festivus!

To be "charmed" by expressions of good will "in a cheerful, happy, . . ."

Proof that Miss Rand was not an economist.

Despite it, I still lover her.

Bah!

Humbug!

I must be "terribly depressed."

"The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized."

Good point. Perhaps, Christmas has been validated by the marketplace ("commercialized") precisely because it is "cheerful, happy, benevolent, [and] non-sacrificial".

People might also want to check out Ayn Rand's reviews of childrens' movies:

http://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/ayn-rand-reviews-childrens-movies

This goes well with Tyler's post, since it's mostly only children that believe in Santa and Ayn Rand.

Hmm. So Ayn Rand didn't exist but is a fabrication foisted on us by Libertarians?

Well, there really was a Greek bishop in Turkey named Nikolas.

+1

Christmas is a celebration of the passing of the winter solstice for non-astronomers.

Purely secular holidays, such as Memorial Day and Labor Day, have many of the same trappings of commercialism that Rand finds so endearing, but a lot less of the joy. Sorry, Ayn, but it ain't greed that makes the season bright.

Memorial Day and Labor Day? C'mon. That's weak.

Is it? How so?

Because they're holidays an order of magnitude less celebrated than Christmas and no one buys gifts for each other. Sales exist because everyone is off of work those days to go shopping, not because they've somehow transmuted the reverence of those who died in battle or workers into some sort of commercial act.

Christmas is commercial in a broad sense because part of the tradition is to give gifts, and in a society where most things are purchased, not made, that involves buying things for others. Buying things is thus an integral part of the holiday; not so with Memorial Day or Labor Day. Plus, no one thinks as Memorial Day or Labor Day as joyful; the first is either somber or just a long weekend to go to the lake. The latter is just a day off.

"holidays an order of magnitude less celebrated than Christmas" Exactly.

exactly what...

Meaning that, if the joy of a holiday was created by just buying things and putting up lights, we could do that on any arbitrarily assigned day, like Labor Day. There would be no reason for Christmas to have a special place in the pantheon of holidays. But it does, so there is obviously some reason beyond "you can put up decorations!"

In other words, by saying "Labor Day is just a day" you're halfway there - *why* is Labor Day just a day, but Christmas is not?

Thousands of years of cultural tradition, stretching back to old celebrations of the winter solstice, and then being yoked to the most dominant religion in the Western world. That's why it's different.

I'm not defending Ayn Rand here, I'm just saying that Christmas is "commercial" in a very different sense than Memorial Day or Labor Day.

Singles' Day has become an incredibly popular holiday without any religious or historical justification. Perhaps Urso could explain.

JBH, my only response is that this is literally the first time I've ever heard of Single's Day in my life. Sorry for the late response but I was busy celebrating Winter Solstice.

Ted? You get gifts on Memorial Day? Your family did it differently than mine.

Just American flags

No, I'm talking about the sales. See, commercialism can take many forms. On those other days, we're encouraged to give gifts to ourselves.

Meh. There are sales for all sorts of reasons.

Personally, I think "Back to School" is just too commercialized these days.

"There are sales for all sorts of reasons."

Yes, and they do little to spark joy. That's my point.

Steam sales always spark great joy in me

Steam sales seem to have been pretty bad for the past two years.

We have come full circle since the days when the commercialization of Christmas was considered offensive.

Now the failure of retailers to commercialize Christmas is often construed as some kind of "War on Christmas."

Actually, it is part of the war on Christians.

"Now the failure of retailers to commercialize Christmas is often construed as some kind of “War on Christmas.”"
Link?

From Wikipedia on "Christmas Controversy":

"Retailer controversies

In 2007, U.S. hardware store chain Lowe's published a catalog that accidentally referred to Christmas trees as "Family trees"
Since at least 2005, religious conservative groups and media in the United States such as the American Family Association, Liberty Counsel and Fox News have called for boycotts of various prominent secular organizations, particularly retail giants, demanding that they use the term "Christmas" rather, than solely "holiday" in their print, TV, online, and in-store marketing and advertising. This was also seen by some as containing a hidden anti-Jewish message. All of the major retailers named denied the charges.[69][70]"

I figured this was what you were getting at, but it really since that has nothing to do with commercialization. Lowe's *was* commercializing Christmas - why else would it have been selling Christmas trees? The Holiday/Christmas controversy, which I find profoundly stupid, isn't about commercialization. It's about control of the language.

Urso,

com·mer·cial·ize verb \kə-ˈmər-shə-ˌlīz\
: to use (something) as an opportunity to earn money

Languages aren't "controlled." Everybody gets to use them and interpret them the way they choose. This offends some people who would like to be able to control them.

Yes, the controversy is profoundly stupid but it is entirely about what is the right way to market these items. Failing to market some items and times of the year as exclusively about Christmas offends some people. Yes, they are stupid people.

What's stupid is it being difficult to find egg nog in July.

Where as Greg when Tyler was whining about Doug Brat calling McCloksey by the name his parents gave him at a birth. It seems like Tyler thinks that certain people get to control how others use language. I suppose Greg considers both Tyler and Dondierdre stupid for wanting to dictate labguafe usage.

Sam,

It is common courtesy to call people by the names they prefer. But even though courtesy is common it is not universal.

Freedom of speech does not come with a guarantee that others will approve of your speech - just a guarantee they won't be able to control it.

Feel free to boycott MR if you are offended.

Completely missed the point. If it's stupid when Christians do it its even more stupid when Cowen does it. Common courtesy would also dictate you simply suck it up and say "Merry Christmas."' Same principle would apply to relgious hymns and crèches. But I get it who/ whom like Lenin said. As long as your tribe gets to do the stomping and the demanding and the slighting then laissez le Bon temps rouler. Why should common courtesy be extended to a boring majority. Courtesy is for the special snow flakes. I mean holiday precipitation in solid form.

Sam,

You are missing the point that some retailers switched to saying "Happy Holidays" precisely because their desire was to be more courteous by also including non-Christians in their corporate expressions of good will. They failed to anticipate that this bland expression of good will might offend some Christians. I am quite sure that if they had a reliable method of knowing which customers would prefer to be greeted in which way, they would require their employees to use the greeting that accomplished that.

Regardless of their decision on how to offend the fewest people in this matter their goal is, and was, to make a choice that results in selling the most stuff, not offending a "boring majority."

The overwhelming majority of Christians are not offended by being wished "Happy Holidays" by a store employee and the overwhelming majority of non-Christians are not offended by being wished "Merry Christmas" by a store employee.

Regardless of religious beliefs, the overwhelming majority of people ARE offended by someone referring to them by a name that the speaker knows they do not want to be identified by.

It is stupid to think that people who are trying to sell you stuff think that a good way to do that is to make "war" on your beliefs. It is also stupid to think that addressing someone by a name you know they object to is anything but a deliberate attempt to offend them. It is quite transparently disingenuous to claim to fail to see the difference.

accidentally? You know this how?

"Family tree" is an exceedingly dumb term here and has only the slightest connection to the larger and also dumb "Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas" brouhaha, inasumuch as it represents a bizarre willingness on the part of some people to ignore a simple historical story in the interest of bending over ridiculously to avoid giving offense.

Brian,

I agree that the term "family tree" is likely the result of a dumb and awkward attempt to be overly sensitive. You will be happy to know I have never personally referred to those things as anything but "Christmas trees."

Your "simple historical story" is far too simple however. People were using evergreens as spiritual symbols at precisely this time of year long before there were Christians.

It is unwise to be overly sensitive. There are many things that different people are overly sensitive about. Of all the things that it is possible to be too easily offended by, people trying too hard to avoid giving offense is surely the silliest.

'the aspect usually decried by the mystics'

'“Be careful! When you do good things, don’t do them in front of people to be seen by them."' Matthew 6:1

I followed her reasoning until I got to: 'spectacular display, which only “commercial greed” could afford to give us'

Are there examples of "spectacular displays" in human history made possible by something other than "commercial greed?"

Maybe I'm straying from Ayn Rand's meaning, but, was "commercial greed" truly the thing that enabled the "spectacular displays" found in the ancient cave paintings of France, Spain and Indonesia, the megalithic formation at Stonehenge, the Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids, the terra cotta warriors of the Qin Tomb in China, the stained glass of Chartres Cathedral, the Taj Mahal, and, for that matter, the gigantic spectacle of the AN602 Hydrogen Bomb?

Hydrogen bomb...yes...Great commercial advantage to winning the war relative to losing it.

Slave labor helped with many of these.

Cave painings and Chartres...Chicks dig artists don't you know.

~ 3/4 of the cave painters of Lascaux were women: http://news.nationalgeographic.com.au/news/2013/10/131008-women-handprints-oldest-neolithic-cave-art/

Down from the academic ivory tower! Lets all queue with the obese at Walmart!

Oh, I get it - because poor people are fat! That's comedy gold!

"non-sacrificial", hah! Christmas represents the greatest, sacrificial act of a God whose greatest virtue is self-sacrificial, co-suffering love for the other.

The words of a song that Christians started singing by 39 ad (from Philippians 2):

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Keep it classy Alex.

I take it Mrs. Rand never heard of deadweight loss.

Ayn Rand is like . . . Adam eating the apple :)

And that's why I don't pay attention to Ayn Rand.

It seems to me like Ayn Rand doesn't understand the roots of Christmas. Christmas was adopted by the Christians and was initially a Roman pagan tradition that lasted from December 17-25. All of the things that Rand speaks about were specifically designed to be a part of Christmas--particularly the gift-giving. A part of it was designed so that the lower class could walk with the upper classes on equal footing. Rand doesn't seem to have picked up a history book.

Having lived in some non-western cities where Christmas is purely about 'commercial greed' and glitz - huge displays of lights on main streets, vast Christmas trees on corners, Santas in every shop window - its a completely hollow affair without having the cultural and religious tradition to accompany it (speaking as someone who is not religious ).

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