Millions of people are about to celebrate Christmas, by decorating their homes, setting up Christmas trees and lights, getting together with their families, exchanging gifts with each other, eating special foods and baking, and enjoying activities from watching movies and playing board games to skating and skiing.
Christmas is a time of benevolence and goodwill, and of spending time with the loved ones and showing your appreciation for them through giving gifts. Yet many people deplore the ‘commercialization’ of Christmas and businesses profiting from the holiday-related sales, feeling guilty over the abundance of material values we get to enjoy, highlighted by the season.
I argue that such guilt—induced by the mistaken moral belief that life is about sacrificing values, not gaining and enjoying them—is completely misplaced. Business and commercialization are not to be condemned and deplored: they make Christmas better and more enjoyable.
Take my family’s annual Christmas holiday as an example; we spend a week around Christmas skiing. This is only possible because there are businesses that operate ski resorts, with lifts, avalanche control, slope maintenance, restaurants, and accommodation. And we couldn’t ski if it weren’t for ski equipment and clothing, all manufactured by profit-seeking companies.
Let’s not forget the energy companies (mostly oil and gas and coal in my part of the world) whose products power the ski lifts, snow mobiles, and grooming machines, heat and light the ski lodges, hotels and condominiums, and provide the gas for our car (another product to make our lives better) to reach the hill.
This year, both sons could only make it by flying in from other cities, made possible by the existence of airlines and jet fuel. Even in our cross-country ski outings, we benefit from the ski resort’s track setting and maintenance, and the gear that makes skiing possible and enjoyable.
Now consider all the other things associated with Christmas celebrations, whether you are skiing or not: decorations, gifts, and food. Where do they come from? Thanks to profit-seeking businesses, we have many choices available, across a wide range of prices. All we have to do is to buy them (or their ingredients, as crafty people and cooks do) in physical stores or online.
And thanks to profit-seeking businesses, we are involved in producing and trading their goods and services, either as employees, entrepreneurs, or investors. Participating in production and trade allows us to earn the money that buys the things that we need and want—that make our lives better.
Commerce and business do not ruin Christmas but improve it, by allowing us to celebrate it in the spirit of joy, benevolence and goodwill, with gifts and food, and an abundance of material values that our productivity, mostly through business, has made possible.
Those who feel guilt over material wealth and blame business for commercializing Christmas through ‘greedy’ profit seeking should pause and ask: “What is the standard of value by which we condemn material wealth and business?”
By answering honestly, they would find that their standard is not human flourishing and happiness but self-sacrifice and human misery and suffering.
By abandoning the destructive standard of self-sacrifice and misery and embracing the standard of human flourishing instead, they can throw away their guilt and join the rest of us in appreciating business for making our lives better year-round and improving our enjoyment of this special time of the year.
Originally posted December 2015