Thoughts on Christmas in the Corporate Age

I was driving my daughter to the dentist today, and noticed how many businesses are open. Now, it’s true that tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so that today is just “Friday” for a lot of people, and if you don’t happen to be Christian there’s nothing really special about this holiday anyway. Then again, there was a time when everyone in the United States understood that the Christmas season was a time of celebration, so that if you were not Christian or even particularly religious, you could still celebrate a time to enjoy family and share goodwill. After all, the early Christians celebrated Christmas at a time when the guys in power were celebrating the Winter Solstice, to avoid notice of their own faith, so the holiday has always been more about the spirit than the specific faith. Some Christians will not like that, I expect, since the modern spirit seems to demand an Imperial Christ who commands us all to surrender to the True Faith. For me, though, I recall a Christ who was remarkably subtle and gentle about other beliefs. Not that Christ did not believe in His own Gospel, but that Jesus understood from the start that faith must be born of love and charity, not demands and threats. Anyway, my point is that I am old enough to remember when everyone could enjoy the season and get a sense of God’s love for all people.

I don’t think I have to go into detail to observe that things have changed a lot over the years. The mercenary aspect has been around for a very long time, even the original version of “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” understood how people obsess over money and possessions, and many judge a holiday by the profit in their bank accounts. And I notice that there are a lot of good people going around spreading the true spirit by helping others, like the layaway Good Sams paying off balances at stores, or the Salvation Army’s tireless work to help those who need it year-round, but especially at Christmas. But I have also noticed how many people are stressed out. My family went to Costco and we saw a lot of angry drivers and rude shoppers, cutting off other cars and shoving in front of other shoppers, and store employees who looked harried and worn out. I remember back when I ran movie theaters, and how tough it could be to get through the holidays with rude and selfish customers who showed no courtesy to my staff or other patrons. OK, so that’s been around for a long time, I get it. And I have to mention, there seem to be an awful lot of people with Christian symbols and stickers on their cars who show no sign f Christ in how they actually behave and speak. Just saying, folks.

But there’s the corporate aspect as well. My company’s GM sent out a pretty standard Christmas wish email yesterday, but it was in sharp contrast to his behavior during the weeks before then. I get it, end of year coming up and he’s under a lot of pressure to make his projected numbers. But he was a bit rude in how he addressed his people, especially in his demands from managers. No sense getting too worked up in that, but I did notice that we had expectations told to us that had no input from us, and therefore were not only unreasonable but impossible to attain. Since I try very hard to always deliver everything I promise, I don’t much like being issued a standard which could not possibly be accomplished, nor to be issued expectations that show no attention to my own estimates and reports throughout the year. Again, I understand the pressure people can get under, but it’s just plain unprofessional to ignore your own people’s reports on what is in range and why.

I bring that up, because in talking to folks that seems to be happening a lot in companies, expectations issued that are unrealistic and create stress for no good purpose and, long-term, damage working relationships between executives and managers. To put it another way, the first fifty weeks of the year give you a good idea about what can be done during the last two, and unrealistic demands are bad on every level. Also, the stress of trying to find a way to meet these year-end expectations spills into family and the community. One reason for the holiday season, I think, is that just as we need a weekend after working all week, at the end of the year we need to decompress a bit, not ratchet up the pressure for the sake of an artificial financial target. And we see that in ways we something might originally see as good; stores that are open longer hours instead of giving their employees more time off, and fewer businesses that close for holidays. I’d rather have the inconvenience of having to get my shopping done by December 23rd and risk not having the pumpkin pie on Christmas, than to see stores demand their employees ignore their families and the holiday in the chase to get more money.

You shouldn’t have to be Christian to put away greed for just a few days.

A Pyrrhic victory for Democrats