The first week of my freshman year at MIT, Michael Fiertag said no. William C. Walker, Jr. said yes.
So, P.S. A Column on Things ran in ERGO (MIT’s objectivist newspaper) under Walker from September 23, 1970 until April 7, 1971. It ran six more times in the regular student paper, The Tech (under Fiertag’s boss Alex Makowski) and then died for a half century after his successor Fourer killed it. I was rereading my columns, and noticed that I could repeat one from a half-century ago.
16 December 1970
Here it is Christmas time again. My special Christmas present to all of you faithful ERGO readers will be a longer than usual column, since we are putting out a longer than usual issue this time, a sizzling spectacular of 12 pages filled with the spirit of Christmas selling, brought to you by the people whose money has made this all possible.
Come to think of it, faithful Column on Things readers might be more appropriate a greeting than ERGO readers, since I understand that the two sets are not always the same. Some people just do not know what they are missing.
So, here it is Christmas time again. It is one of those things of life that never seem to fail you. Like death and taxes, except that death only comes to you once, whereas taxes come every year to those who pay them; so, Christmas is like taxes. Just like so many other religious events, it happens whether you are ready or not, with a regularity that many find disturbing.
“What? You mean it’s Christmas again already?”
“Oh, Christ”, say some others, in obvious reference to the historical origin of the occasion: the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Of course, most Americans today realize and concede that in this country, the Christmas season has come to mean so much more than “just religion”. As a matter of fact, to most it means anything but religion.
In the spirit which has made this country great, a simple religious holiday has become the Mercantile Celebration of the Winter Solstice. This is a time of great feasting and celebration among the merchants about our plentiful land of the free and home of the credit card. During this period, they harvest the fruits of a year’s labor. For some, over 50% of their annual take occurs during just this one time period (Thanksgiving to Christmas, although there is a movement afoot to have the opening moved back to Halloween, which is in itself another fine example of an American religious holiday); but that is actually a good thing. As Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president once remarked: “The business of America is business.” Then the time is good for the sellers of goods in the U.S., the time is also good for most of the employees of our land. Thus, they are able to buy many nice products to give as presents, which makes the times good, which makes the employee more money...
But we have degenerated in this discussion from the real point. If this were a normal discussion in a normal column, you would anticipate that at this point, I would state “All of the above is a terrible indication of the decline in the moral strength of our people and the true spirit of Christmas.” HOWEVER, THAT IS NOT MY CONCLUSION AT ALL.
Christmas, in my opinion, is what you make of it. There is still ample opportunity for you to enjoy it as a religious holiday if you so desire. But if you enjoy giving and receiving gifts; if you like the stories of Santa Claus, Rudolph, and Charlie Brown; if you like tinsel and Christmas trees; JOIN THE CROWD. And try not to pay too much heed to the messages which will, as usual, proliferate around Christmas time about “Getting Back to the REAL Christmas.” YOUR Christmas is the real Christmas; make it a very merry one.
Even M.I.T. gets into some sort of spirit for the duration of the season. Some little patches of Institute Grey (here and there) are covered by plastic symbols of the time: little Christmas bells, holly, mistletoe. The bright reds and greens really stand out from their surroundings, as though to remind that Christmas penetrates even here.
So, ‘neath our plastic tree, we look past our plastic gifts and over the top of the plastic Santa on our lawn to wish you and yours the most Merry of Christmases and a Happy New Year.
The incredibly talented San Francisco Chronicle Columnist Jon Carroll used to remind readers every year to give away money during the holidays; he called it the Untied Way (not a typo). Let’s carry on his tradition.