[In]Securities Guest Blog: And So This Is Christmas by Aegis Frumento Esq

December 24, 2019

And So This Is Christmas

To begin with, let's leave the children out of this discussion. They get a pass to relish the magic of Christmas to their heart's content. They, with the wisdom of youth, will not read this. And perhaps because I, like all of us, am still a child somewhere within my hoary rings of age, Christmas is unabashedly my favorite holiday. I love the colors, the sounds, the transient good cheer, even some of the music. There, I've said it.

But I'm still deeply skeptical about its popular origins. That which we romanticize as "Christmas" is a Victorian concoction -- a Roman-Viking-Druid mash-up with a little Christianity thrown in for seasoning. If Charles Dickens didn't invent it, he surely gave it the form we're still nostalgic for.

And the reality of Christmas as the rest of us actually know it is far different. It is, at least among consenting adults, an orgy of crass commercialism, as retailers frenzy themselves to get us to buy Chinese stuff we don't need to give to relatives who have enough clutter as it is. And as they reciprocate, we are constipated with the excreta of the material age. I think if we all practiced re-gifting for just one year, the economy would collapse, which more than anything proves how ephemeral the whole economic thing is.

As if to prove the point, I have noticed that holiday stress shrinks when you stop taking the material world so seriously. I used to agonize over getting gifts just right; now I count it a victory in getting gifts just done. I don't care so much about either what I give or what I get. Good books and wine aside, it's all crap anyway. It's the act of giving that counts, not what's given. We all learned that in kindergarten -- it's just that sort of lesson takes time to sink in.

Of course, Christmas has been wrapped up in economic lessons from the very start. One can't read Dickens without being smacked in the head with it. In A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge his young self at a Christmas party thrown by his old employer, Fezziwig, and notes, "He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?" "It isn't that, Spirit," noted Scrooge, as he begins to see the light. "He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count'em up: What then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune."

That, too, is part of the fantasy of Christmas. I know from experience that December parties aren't what they used to be, in the innocence of our pre-dot-com-pre-Worldcom-pre-Enron-pre-credit-bomb-pre-911-pre-Trump days. Or perhaps I'm not what I used to be -- it's hard to tell sometimes. I do hope there are still Fezziwigs around, but you wouldn't know it from the headlines. How Amazon dominates and manipulates the Fezziwigs that sell merchandise on its site, squeezing their profits so they can ill afford some small holiday cheer, is more the norm. Which is why calls to break it up are gaining voices, and good for them. See

The Christmas movie to watch this year seems to be Greta Gerwig's reimagining of Little Women. I didn't read Louisa May Alcott's classic novel as a boy, when all the girls in my middle-school class were reading it, because, well, I was a boy. But I'm younger than that now, and have caught up on many of the great women novelists of that era. What strikes me about all of them is how deeply founded their stories are on economic worry.

How to secure one's finances is the first thought of the heroines of novelists from Jane Austen to the Bronte sisters to George Elliot, all the way through to Virginia Woolf. Male novelists of the era aren't quite so concerned with earning a living -- Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne are notable exceptions -- but the women all are acutely cognizant of how dependent they were on someone else's largess. "Happily ever after" presumes economic security, be it through a rich husband (like Elizabeth Bennett) or the bequest of a dead rich relative (like Jane Eyre). Romance is decidedly secondary, whatever they may say and however boys and men may read it.

Little Women is no different. It begins at Christmas with the March girls bemoaning their poverty. " 'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo, lying on the rug." "'Its so dreadful to be poor!' sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress." But, we are told, it wasn't always so. Jo "found [poverty] harder to bear than the others, because she could remember a time when home was beautiful, life full of ease and pleasure, and want of any kind unknown."

We are given but a hint of what happened to the family fortune. We know Mr. March is fighting the Civil War, which he would not have to do were he wealthy. Back then - as now -- rich men could buy their way out of serving. Mr. March could have been laid low by any number of reversals common in those days (and ours) -- ill health, failed ventures, fraud, drinking, gambling. But no. We are told that "Mr. March lost his property in trying to help an unfortunate friend."

He whose birthday many swear this is said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." But who, these days, would even lay down his property to help an unfortunate friend? Today's byword is every man for himself, it seems. Sure, Mr. March was a minister, but that's no distinction.

Mr. March's example of generosity foreshadows his daughter Jo's decision at the end of the book, to use her own financial security (inherited from her dead aunt) to start a school for lost boys. She holds up as her ideal her childhood friend Laurie. "[H]ere you are, a steady, sensible, business man, doing lots of good with your money, and laying up the blessings of the poor, instead of dollars." Under Jo's tutelage, Laurie learned what Shakespeare's King Lear realized only in his late-life epiphany on the heath, when he saw the huddling masses with no shelter from the storm. "Take physic, pomp," he said. "Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, that thou mayst shake the superflux to them and show the heavens more just."

Here then, to all the Fezziwigs, Marches, Lauries and Lears of the world, who by shaking their superflux to their unfortunate friends show the heavens more just. To them and to us all, John Lennon still speaks:

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong

And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red one
Let's stop all the fight

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 BrokeAndBroker.com Blog. 

[In]Securities Guest Blog: And So This Is Christmas by Aegis Frumento Esq (BrokeAndBroker.com Blog)

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