Search all around the globe, and you may never find a mostly-agnostic* half-Jew who loves Christmas more than I do. Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year, mostly because of the pure joy spread by the vast majority of Americans who are believers. Even self-described “intransigent atheist” Ayn Rand praised Christmas for its “good will toward men,” expressed in a “cheerful, happy, benevolent” way.
But if we’re being totally honest, part of the thrill of Christmas is the pure material joy of all the stuff.
I just don’t mean the presents, either. I’m talking about the decorations, the lights, the sparkly tinsel, the gift wrap, the food, the drink… Oh my, the food and the drink. I can’t get enough of the Christmas music, either, especially the totally commercial, secular stuff written mostly in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50 by America’s greatest songwriters. The most famous of them all, “The Christmas Song,” was co-written by Mel Tormé — a Jew. If all that doesn’t warm your heart, then you sir are worse than Hitler.
Christmas, as any good Grinch knows, doesn’t come from a store, and none of the ribbons and tags and packages, boxes, and bags are actually necessary to the Christmas spirit. In fact, it’s all a rather recent innovation for a 2,000-year-old holiday, because for most of human history, humans were too poor to hope to do much more than somehow survive the long winter.
But then a marvelous thing happened: Capitalism.
Free markets, born in the aptly-named “miracle” inextricably intertwined with limited government in Britain and the Netherlands, produced an incredible snowball effect of wealth creation. Planted on America’s shores, the intertwined miracle of free markets and free people took even stronger root, even if it was incomplete then and remains so today. But what began in 1776 as a few million farmers and merchants hugging the Atlantic coasts blossomed with unbelievable speed into the country around us today. By America’s 150th Independence Day in 1926, we had grown to nearly 120 million strong, in the most dizzyingly wealthy land anyone could have ever imagined.
More or less, that’s when we’d grown rich enough — in money, in electricity, in music recording, and in the crazy variety of presents to choose from — to reinvent Christmas in part as a secular feast for all the senses.
While we’re at it, let’s give a special shout-out to Black Friday. Faithful or secular, we Americans do literally half our year’s retail spending in the three our four short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Retailers — those sharp capitalists at the tip of the spear — long ago decided to take advantage of the three-day, post-Thanksgiving weekend with their biggest sales of the year. The result: Black Friday is the day their ledgers go out of the red and into the black.
Black Friday got a little crazy there for a while though, didn’t it? One of my earlier memories from the TV news was parents getting into fistfights, or pistol duels, or maybe something involving samurai swords over Cabbage Patch Dolls one Black Friday of yesteryear. Nuts!
You can still enter the retail fracas, fists and maces at the ready, if you like. But many — most? — retailers have turned Black Friday into a weeks-long shopping extravaganza. You can even do it all from the comfort of your own sofa (bought at Crate & Barrel) using your laptop (given its universal form by Apple more than 25 years ago) via Wifi (invented by one of those clever Dutch we were just talking about) on the Internet (an American creation). And just to show you it isn’t all secular glitz, if Jesus were alive on Earth today, I bet He’d be on his smartphone, trying to fit important holiday lessons into Twitter’s 240-character limit. Assuming Twitter didn’t shadowban Him.
Ain’t capitalism grand?
So get out there on Friday, or get online, or tear through your catalogs tomorrow like any red-blooded American true believer in that nearly all-powerful force: Capitalism.
*Been trying to find faith for a long time, but either I just suck at this, or maybe it needs to find me first. Prayers accepted.