Ayn Rand, the novelist and philosopher, really enjoyed Christmas.
She was not a materialist; nor was she a mystical spiritualist. She held that there is no conflict between genuine spirituality and the enjoyment of material things. Human beings need material products to survive, and an abundance of material wealth–used under the guidance of proper moral principles–enhances human life and happiness dramatically. Wealth allows people leisure time: Instead of working about 12 hours a day from sunrise to sunset, 6 days a week, having a short supper and going to bed as most people did before capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, most Westerners can now afford to work 8 hours a day, while pursuing hobbies, recreation and friendships after work and on the weekends. People have a greater ability to balance vocational productive work with other pursuits that also contribute to happiness and spiritual contentment.
Rand also held that voluntary trade in a free market is a good, benevolent, win-win interaction: Both parties benefit from the trade, by their own judgment (or they wouldn’t pursue it, assuming they’re not acting self-destructively.) There is no need for anyone to sacrifice the interests of others for his own supposed benefit in free-market trades. (And in fact, sacrificing others cannot bring real benefits, but is self-destructive, all things considered.)
So there is nothing crass or ignoble about honest trade, or the morally-principled pursuit of material wealth, and Ayn Rand brought this perspective to her commentary 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.
The “commercialization” of Christmas is merely the application of modern capitalist trade to the practice of gift-giving (generosity) that has a long history in Christmas tradition, going back to its origins in the Roman festival of Saturnalia. The alternatives would be making all gifts for friends and family from scratch, or not giving gifts at all, both of which everyone is free to do if they wish.
But the tremendous productivity that commercialization makes possible enables all kinds of side-benefits in the Christmas season: beautiful displays of lights, Christmas-themed shopping centers, lavish meals with family, exchange of substantial gifts (especially high-tech gifts), and the ability to afford substantial donations to worthy charities one cares about.
Merry Christmas to all of my readers who celebrate it. Enjoy the wonderful combination of spiritual and material enjoyment that comes from meals, recreation, conversation and gift exchanges with friends and family during the holidays.