GUEST BLOG: This Christmastide by Aegis Frumento Esq

December 24, 2018

As everyone knows, there's a war against Christmas. Thanks to our courageous leader, we can now once again say "Merry Christmas." Or is it "Xmas"? But that does not mean the war is won. Why, in uber-liberal Massachusetts, they passed a law that reads, in relevant part: "whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way . . . shall pay for every such offence . . .  a fine . . . ." The opponents of Christmas would have that law apply across this Godly country!

Of course, all this is silly. There is no war against Christmas. But equally silly is the refusal to acknowledge holidays and festivals for what they are. The anodyne "Seasons Greetings" goes as far back as I can remember. That's now been almost universally replaced by the even worse "Happy Holidays." But neither a Season nor a Holiday is a celebratory thing. People celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, even Festivus. Can we please call a holiday by its rightful name and stop being cowards about it?

Oh, I know the rationale. We don't want to insult anyone by wishing them a holiday they don't celebrate. Because we really don't care enough to find out which holiday is relevant to which person, we'll just lump them all together and let you pick whichever one you want. I've two objections to this. First, it assumes that it's insulting to be wished well on account of someone else's holiday. Having been raised Catholic, I need all the good wishes I can get, and I don't care whose holiday it is! Second, it denigrates all our winter holidays to reduce them down to a meaningless common denominator. None of them deserves that. Especially not Festivus.

But let's talk about Christmas specifically, because that's where the purported fight is. I fully understand why Jews would not want to be reminded of the birth of he in whose name so many of them have been persecuted and slaughtered throughout history. And the "put Christ back in Christmas" crowd only adds fuel to it. 

But Christ was never in Christmas to begin with. The Bible does not say when Christ was born, and those who scour it for clues point to September or April, not December. Besides, everyone agrees that the early Christians just repurposed the Roman Saturnalia into a birthday party, just like the Romans repurposed native post-harvest rituals into a celebration of Saturn and Sol Invictus. Our own Christmas, with its holly, mistletoe, and indoor trees, owes even more to the pagan Yuletide rituals of pre-Christian England, Germany, and Scandinavia. Christmas is cultural appropriation all the way down.

Historian Yuval Harari writes that there are three kinds of reality. We are familiar with the objective reality of the physical world, and the subjective reality inside our own heads. But there is also what he calls the "intersubjective reality." Those are all the things that are "real" only because we agree that they are real. That takes in a lot of what we moderns deal in, like money, corporations, nations, religion, and the like. All these would die like Tinkerbell were we to stop believing in them.

Christmas is such an intersubjective reality. It means whatever we agree it means, and most agree it has nothing to do with the historical birthdate of Christ. But Christmas is special because beneath all the intersubjectivity that has been lathered on it over time by Romans, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and Christians, it is rooted in a very objective reality. Christmas and all its precursors originated from our ancestors' recognition that the winter solstice on December 21 is the shortest day of the year. Because of that, Christmas is primal. It celebrates a real thing -- the return of longer days and with them light. We are now once again assured that, although snows of January may still befall us, Spring will come. That is why Christmas -- like Saturnalia and Yuletide before it -- has always been associated with light and merriment, and with their metaphysical metaphors, truth, peace, love, hope. That's the real reason for the season, and has been for tens of thousands of years, long before Christ, or even Saturn, came into the picture.

So what if we call it Christmas? The wisdom of our ancestors is in the name and we dare not disturb it, or the country's done for. As for banning Christmas, Massachusetts really did -- in 1659 after the Puritans took over the English government. They took Christmas's pagan roots seriously, and even today there are those who question how Christians can "reform a pagan holiday." Massachusetts repealed the ban in 1681, but Christmas didn't fully recover until over a century later. It wasn't a national legal holiday until 1870, at the exact mid-point of Queen Victoria's reign. The Currier & Ives tableau of rituals and celebrations that we today wax nostalgically over, even if we never actually experienced them, all come from the Victorians.

That era's best-known chronicler was Charles Dickens, and he more than anyone gave us our modern conception of Christmas. But folks forget that A Christmas Carol was at bottom a scathing indictment of the unregulated economic practices of the time. Ebenezer Scrooge was a stand-in for all the greedy bastards of his day and ours who look to profit at the expense of whomever they can exploit. The pitiful spirits that Marley's ghost showed him, clanging the chains they forged in life, could be given names ripped right from this morning's headlines. 

Dickens barely mentions Christ in the whole book, but he does refer to a "Christian spirit." Dickens let Marley's ghost declaim to the eternal Scrooges of the world what "business" that spirit entailed:

Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!

And when the Ghost of Christmas Present showed Scrooge Ignorance and Want, portending "Doom," he too was talking to us.

Our Christmas really is a modern holiday, and those who would peg it back to biblical times and declare war over it need to get a grip. Still, we should celebrate it gladly, if only because the planet still makes its annual trip around the sun unmindful of our collective imbecility. The winter solstice has come again, and we are again in that time of year when the hope of brighter days is newly born. That's worth the festivities; we need no better reason.

The Yuletide was twelve days long. The early English Christians made it into the twelve days of Christmas, the Christmastide. Tomorrow is the first day of Christmas, when I should be offering you a partridge in a pear tree. Alas, no partridge and no tree. Instead, I offer my favorite Christmas carol. It's not really a carol, since it is modern, composed by Donald Fraser for the great soprano Jessye Norman in 1988. More than any other, this elegant hymn, stripped of excess theological baggage and cloying sentimentality, expresses in spare lyrics and august phrasing exactly what we need right now:

Let the bells ring loud and clear
Ring out now for all to hear
Truth and Love and Hope abide
This Christmastide

Enjoy Jessye Norman's original here:  

This St. Olaf College Choir rendition is especially affecting: 


Aegis J. Frumento
Stern Tannenbaum & Bell
Co-Head, Financial Markets Practice

380 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10168

Aegis Frumento is a partner of Stern Tannenbaum & Bell, and co-heads the firm's Financial Markets Practice. Mr. Frumento represents persons and businesses in all aspects of commercial, corporate and securities matters and dispute resolution (including trials and arbitrations); SEC and FINRA regulated firms and persons on regulatory compliance issues and in SEC and FINRA enforcement investigations and proceedings; and senior executives of public corporations personal securities law and corporate governance matters.  Mr. Frumento also represents clients in forming and registering broker-dealers and registered investment advisers, in developing compliance policies, procedures and controls, and in adopting proper disclosure documents. Those now include industry professionals looking to adapt blockchain technologies to finance and financial market enterprises.

Prior to joining the firm, Mr. Frumento was a managing director of Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, a partner and the head of the financial markets group of Duane Morris LLP, and the managing partner of Singer Frumento LLP.

He graduated from Harvard College in 1976 and New York University School of Law in 1979. Mr. Frumento is a frequent author and speaker on securities law issues, and is often quoted in the media on current securities law developments.

NOTE: The views expressed in this Guest Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Blog.