Christmas, A Miracle of Working Together

“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”

—G.K. Chesterton

Adults have lost their belief in Christmas. Not Santa, mind you. We all eventually become disillusioned when we find out maybe he didn’t really punch Arius in the nose (google it). But we’ve become cold and unfeeling agnostics in the face of overwhelming evidence that Christmas is a miracle, and it is time to let the Christmas spirit warm our hearts again

Children are quick to find the flaws in the Santa narrative: How could one guy make it to all of those houses with all of those toys in one night? And they are absolutely right. There is too much to do for any single person to make it possible. And yet it gets done. We chuckle because we are in on the secret—the adults do it—and we think our explanation exhausts the story and leaves no room for miracles.

But we are wrong. Christmas is a miracle.

The packages were all delivered to millions of houses around the world. The gifts were wrapped; the cookies baked and set out with a glass of milk. The miracle of Christmas occurred. We did it, but we did not do it alone, we all helped each other. That glass of milk you left out for Santa came from a store that kept it chilled for you. It was delivered in a chilled truck from a plant where it was pasteurized to prevent you from getting sick. It of course came from a cow that someone else cared for and fed, and milked. Dozens (actually more) helped you get that glass of milk. Even if you baked your own cookies, someone else milled the flour, and another grew the wheat.

Christmas is too big of a task for one person, so we work together (economists call it the Division of Labor). But something miraculous occurs when we help each other out. Cooperation has a multiplier effect, we accomplish more than we could have imagined. Adam Smith, using the example of a small pin factory, calculated that ten people working together could produce not ten times more, but four-thousand times more than a single individual. We owe the abundant feast and merriment that we today enjoy to the miracle of working together.

If we try to list all of the people who helped us, as Leonard Read did in his classic essay I, Pencil, we find that we cannot complete the list. Take the Christmas music you listen you, for example:

  • The singers and musicians, who practiced and performed the song
  • The composer, who wrote the song (maybe with a pencil)
  • The people who made the instruments and recording devices
  • The people who mined the material that the instruments were made of
  • The people who made your listening device

This is just the beginning of everyone involved so that you could listen to Rejoice, Rejoice by the Oh Hellos.

Leonard Read pointed out that, miraculously, no one coordinated the activities of all of these people. They worked together without knowing each other, without knowing you, and no one forced them to do it. Your house is full of presents and good cheer without a federal mandate that every child have a merry Christmas.

Even more miraculous, and seemingly-contradictory, if a tyrant or bureaucracy tried to accomplish Christmas they would not be able to do it, as every Santa-doubting child has figured out.

Then how are all of these activities coordinated? How does everyone know what to produce, and how much of it to make? Prices. The simple calculation of profit and loss that each of us makes before we act helps society coordinate its efforts. Government intervention can only disrupt this elegant communication system, it cannot improve it.

The miracle of Christmas is threatened by our lack of faith. Like Santa’s sleigh that loses its flight power if we stop believing, the miraculous cooperation that makes Christmas day possible will fall to pieces if we tried to enforce it by government mandate. Even if government could accomplish Christmas, government is a monopoly and a bureaucracy, and would administer Christmas at higher costs and lower quality, as all monopolies are incentivized to do.

The call for government to take over education, health care, and poor relief, are all a result of our loss of goodwill for one another; our disbelief that we will take care of our fellowmen. But the very fact that you want to help the poor is proof that the Christmas spirit, and goodwill toward men, still burns in your heart, and the hearts of others as well.

A socialist tyranny depends on our distrust of each other, and a childish faith that one man could make Christmas possible. A free society depends on our believing in one another, and having goodwill toward all men.

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