Ayn Rand on Christmas

Ayn Rand, novelist and philosopher of Objectivism, a philosophy for living on Earth.

Ayn Rand – novelist and philosopher

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.

Beautiful Christmas tree - wreath on the fireplace, table with candles: warmly lit homeBut 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.

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Related Posts:

Other People as Egoistic Values Versus Other People as Objects of Self-Sacrifice in Ayn Rand’s Philosophy

Introduction to Objectivism

Ayn Rand and the Crude Materialism of the “Rich vs. Poor” Worldview

The Wages of Altruism: Domestic Abuse

One Internal Contradiction in the Christian Worldview: God’s Omniscience vs. Free Will

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3 thoughts on “Ayn Rand on Christmas

  1. The giving of gifts is rooted in the fact that in earlier times people lived in need, with no surplus until a bountiful harvest was brought in. Having to postpone satisfaction or gratification or even filling of a need until a designated time taught people self-control, accepting of abstinence, learning to “save” for a future time (the essence of capitalist thrift and investment).

    Nowadays most of us have a very wide margin of safety and material comforts, and Christmas becomes a symbol of highlighting good relationships among friends and family, people whom we care about and whom we in turn want to make happy. Too bad that benevolence does not always extend outside that inner circle and to the larger world, where killing is still the chief mode of interaction.

    Many of us have few material needs. Tempting new products make us have desires more than needs. I like to give edibles or a treat to an event like a concert or dinner, and an expression of appreciation. So thank you, Objective Analyst, for all the interesting and worthwhile writings you’ve shared in the Gulch, and for being a light in the cold and dark. I wish you a happy future.

      • Hello Sword_of_Apollo,
        Thank you for the fine article. I linked to it in the Gulch and I now see some have mistaken the authorship. I shall append my thread and make clear your authorship.

        Might I suggest that your pen name be given the prominence it deserves. 🙂
        I find it is easy to miss since placed so inconspicuously low on the page.

        I see you have been a member of the Gulch for over 3 years, but haven’t visited in a few months. Hope all is well with you,
        Respectfully,
        O.A.

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