First published here…
Millions of people are about to celebrate Christmas, by decorating their homes, setting up Christmas trees and lights, getting together with their families (thanks to Covid tests developed by companies), exchanging gifts, 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 deplored but appreciated: 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. These businesses have managed to continue operations by quickly adapting with pandemic precautions, training, and protective gear for their staff. And we couldn’t ski if it weren’t for ski equipment and clothing, all manufactured by profit-seeking companies that have coordinated their supply chains to keep manufacturing during the pandemic.
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, one son was only able to make it by flying in from another city, made possible by the existence of airlines and jet fuel—and the two Covid tests he took since landing to ensure that he hadn’t brought the virus with him. Another son was not able to join us this year, but we are still able to connect with him ‘face to face’ and have virtual holiday meals together, thanks to Zoom.
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—and making possible—our enjoyment of this special time of the year, even in difficult circumstances.
Adapted from the original post in December 2015 to reflect the pandemic Christmas.
Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada. She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad. Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada. Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book.