[ACC] Should You Have A Merry Christmas?

[This is an entry to the 2019 Adversarial Collaboration Contest by Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch]

Christmas Day is a a time full of laughter and cheer which is held in the West at the end of each year.

Believers in Jesus traditionally think the day marks his birth; scientists disagree. They point to the shepherds; when carolers sing about fields full of sheep, that occurs in the spring. The Star of the Magi provides further doubt. Simulations can tell us what star it’s about: it was most likely Jupiter shining near Saturn, but it’s only in autumn one sees such a pattern. It is proven in space and it’s proven on Earth – Christmas isn’t the real time of Jesus’ birth.

One of the most popular Yule celebrations is handing out gifts to one’s friends and relations. Parents offer the story these presents appeared due to Santa, a jolly old man with a beard. Originally a historical saint, his tale was embellished, with little restraint. He flies through the air in a reindeer-pulled sleigh, and visits all households on Earth in a day. This tradition seems pagan, with some scholars noting the details are pulled from a legend of Odin. Though sources like NORAD appear to support Santa’s presence, we think that their data fall short. After reading the pros and the cons, we both feel the consensus perspective is Santa’s not real.

And what are these gifts’ economics effects? According to Goeddeke and Birg, it’s complex. Since presents are valuable, one might assume that their giving would cause stores and markets to boom. You give to your parents! You give to your boss! But economists say it is all deadweight loss. You would spend the same money on something, you see, and presents are chosen incompetently. Others’ preferences aren’t as clear as our own, so when we buy for others, their needs are unknown. Presents don’t increase welfare and don’t increase growth; all the papers agree they are harmful to both.

Is there anything good about Yule? It depends. Holidays are a time to see family and friends. In a season of darkness and inclement weather, Christmas gives an excuse to bring people together. People pray for world peace; relatives are united; workers get time off work; little kids are delighted. It gives us a reason for dancing and singing, for candles and carols and feasts and bell-ringing. Despite deadweight losses, despite the wrong days, we think that this matters so much it outweighs all the falsehoods and problems; our model predicts it outweighs all those things by a factor of six!

CONCLUSION (CLW): The Grinch turned out right on historical dates, and made several good points about gifts (which he hates). But if measures and numbers are all we inspect, then we risk falling prey to the streetlight effect. It was useful to reason this out with the Grinch, but I chose not to budge; I did not budge one inch! The best parts of Christmas can hardly be measured; they’re moments of joy to be felt and be treasured.

CONCLUSION (TG): I started out thinking that Christmas was bad. I hated the season! It made me so mad! But the evidence reached an explicit conclusion: my hatred of Christmas was based on confusion. It wasn’t that Christmas was harmful at all! It was just that my heart was two sizes too small!

CONCLUSION (JOINT): After working our differences out, we agree: Merry Christmas to all those who read SSC!

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51 Responses to [ACC] Should You Have A Merry Christmas?

  1. robirahman says:

    Truly your heart grew two sizes this day.
    To fellow readers, Merry Christmas I say!

  2. Made me smile. Happy holidays to you, too, and I hope the best for your 2020!

    (Also, that is a large number of rhymes. You definitely have more patience than I do!)

  3. FeepingCreature says:

    I did not notice the rhyming until halfway in.

    :shakes head: Whatever. Merry Christmas!

    • eyeballfrog says:

      It’s also in anapestic tetrameter.

    • Loriot says:

      I didn’t notice until “CONCLUSION (CLW):”. Though to be fair, the rhymes in the earlier section are subtler and much further apart.

      • Michael Watts says:

        The rhyming isn’t perfect, and neither is the scansion, but they’re both there from the beginning. In particular, the spacing of the rhymes is constant through the entire piece.

        The reason they aren’t as dead-obvious as, say, the meter in Dangerous Dan McGrew is bad caesura placement in the opening of the piece. This mostly gets ironed out in later verses. Compare:

        Believers in Jesus traditionally think

        the day marks his birth; scientists disagree. [bad rhyme; bad break]

        They point to the shepherds; when carolers sing

        about fields full of sheep, that occurs in the spring. [good rhyme; bad break]

        Is there anything good about Yule? It depends.

        Holidays are a time to see family and friends.

        In a season of darkness and inclement weather,

        Christmas gives an excuse to bring people together.

        People pray for world peace; relatives are united;

        workers get time off work; little kids are delighted.

        It gives us a reason for dancing and singing,

        for candles and carols and feasts and bell-ringing.

        • muskwalker says:

          Believers in Jesus traditionally think

          the day marks his birth; scientists disagree. [bad rhyme; bad break]

          I’m moderately confident that for the sake of the rhyme the intended reading is

          Belie|vers in Je|sus tradi|tionally
          think the day | marks his birth; | scientists | disagree.

          with the iambic substitution in the first line rather than the second (and with all five syllables in ‘traditionally’ pronounced).

  4. Ttar says:

    Scott’s going to win the $2,500.

  5. Ashley Yakeley says:

    Merry Christmas Scott!

  6. dpm96c says:

    Merry Christmas! Great to see an adversarial collaboration work out this nicely.

  7. metacelsus says:

    I fear the Grinch may have begun suffering from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

  8. dreeves says:

    Omg so brilliant. I’m now going to read this out loud to my family. Maybe it will become a tradition like reading aloud every year on Thanksgiving

  9. Nicholas says:

    Merry Christmas to all (who want it)!!

  10. aphyer says:

    As in so many of these collaborations, the arguments dont lead to the destinations. Throughout all the arguments both sides described, it was clear that the Grinch’s was the winning side. But then in the ending, what did they say? Why, they answered the question the opposite way! This foolish approach makes me doubt their conclusion. Is the Grinch under duress? Or was there collusion?

    Don’t vote for this essay, I’m sorry to say. It’s not Merry Christmas…Happy Holidays!

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      Yes, the first half was clearly a win for the the Grinch. But then Cindy Lou Who took it back in a pinch! For despite all the downsides they measured and weighted, there were upsides they found that were more qualitative. Read the last paragraph just before their conclusions: They used a fair model, there was no collusion. Though I really do wish that they’d shown us the model, it still does explain their reversing of throttle–the Grinch’s conclusion looks pretty sincere. So I wish you Merry Christmas, and happy New Year!

      • Well... says:

        The Grinch left out some good points, I thought. For example, the use of much power for naught: Christmas lights, toy trains — inflatables, too…such a misuse of energy and fossil fuel. And what’s more, he left “it’s about family” unchecked: for many, these gatherings make them feel wrecked. I personally hate all the mess and the trash; I’m sure we’d save landfills if we just kept our cash.

        So, those feel-good Who arguments don’t really sway me. Maybe I’m Grinchish, or just call me crazy… I agree with what aphyer originally said. I wish well to you all, but “Bah Humbug!” instead.

    • Well... says:

      Thinking more on it made me reflect on this mess; surely the sign of a broken process. If the conclusion is not where the arguments lead, then something is not being done right, indeed. If this happens in most of the papers you’ve read, the problem’s not local, but very widespread! Could it be the result of the authors ignoring each other’s best points, and only exploring their own side plus strawmen, and then rushing the end to get the thing in before the deadline Scott set?

  11. Skeptical Wolf says:

    Reading this was an unexpected delight.
    Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

  12. sharper13 says:

    No evidence provided that anyone teaches,
    December 25th as the actual birthday of Jesus.
    Instead it’s just a chosen day,
    to each celebrate in our own way.

    Gifts are chosen incompetently in dollar accountings,
    but the receiver too gains cheery feelings.
    The giver also gains those feelings instead of losing them,
    So it’s all a clear Pareto improvement, when used in moderation.

    • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

      I’m going to do that thing where someone gives a serious response to an obvious joke post. I know this is all lighthearted but since it touches a serious point, I may as well remind everyone that there actually are serious reasons to support a birthdate around 12/25. It’s indirect and certainly inconclusive as to precise dates, but it’s better than an inference from the reference to sheep, which is extremely inconclusive on the extant first-century evidence (which seems to comport with winter pasturing). The first century data suggest that the Baptist was conceived right after the holiday of Yom Kippur, so late September/early October. (The identification with Yom Kippur is inferential and probably presents the weakest link in the inferential chain.) Then we connect that to Jesus by a recorded meeting between Jesus’s mother and John’s mother. We have two facts about that meeting, first that it occurred right after Jesus’s conception, and second that it occurred six months after John’s conception. So that would set the meeting (and Jesus’s conception) perhaps in late March, which would comport with a birthday in late December. There could be a long conversation about the reliability of the accounts, but one can at least see that the traditional birthdate is unlikely to have been wholly arbitrary, or driven by coincidences of pagan holidays or anything like that.

  13. Anteros says:

    This kind of post is one of the many reasons I read SCC. And now Scott has finally managed to unlurk me… Bah Humbug!
    Hello everyone and Happy Christmas 😀

  14. hambo says:

    There is one small point about which I’m confused: the rhyming seems often to be much abused. The first sentences of paragraphs two through to five, don’t have much of a rhythm, and the words just don’t jive! Consider the second: by the way the sounds flow, the words “think” and “disagree”: they together should go. Because Scott’s really clever, and constructs things with care, I can’t understand why mistakes would be there! Do I not understand American pronunciation? Or is this just a thing poets do on occasion?

    • Paul Crowley says:

      Be-lie-vers in Je-sus tra-di-tion-al-ly
      think the day marks his birth; sci-en-tists dis-ag-ree.

  15. sty_silver says:

    The last line is interesting because it suggests that the proper way to read abbreviations is to literally read “S-S-C” rather than replacing the abbreviation with the full name in your head.

    Readers of SSC: which of these two describes your behavior?

    • Anteros says:

      ‘S,S,C’…….. is the one for me

    • WorldIsAliveNow says:

      Yeah, I also mentally read it as “S-S-C” (and other acronyms similarly as well).

      • robirahman says:

        SSC is an initialism, not an acronym. Initialisms are read as their constituent letters, while acronyms are pronounced as if they are words.

        For example, compare these initialisms: USA, DVD, BBC
        with these acronyms: OPEC, NASA, radar, laser

    • Quixote says:

      I read it out loud as Star Slate Codex. I acknowledge that this is probably objectively wrong.

  16. Kith says:

    Well done; much respect!

  17. Deiseach says:

    Though I am constitutionally inclined towards Grinchdom and often recall with a certain amount of fellow-feeling the sentiments of one of the most noted critics of Christmas, Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, so cogently summed up as “Bah, humbug!”, I have to reluctantly accede to the opinion of the majority of my fellow-citizens in this matter.

    And so, a peaceful, joyful and Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to you all!

  18. Alkatyn says:

    “You fail to recognise the value of economic stimulus in a period of otherwise low consumer spending Mr Grinch!”

    • Thomas Redding says:

      People say all the time, “stimulus good”,
      But that’s condition-dependent, not a complete truth-hood
      In recessions, stimulus boots labor demand,
      But during most times, it just causes prices to expand.

    • @Thomas Redding

      Isn’t the usual model the supply side hockey stick, so prices only increase if the economy is at full capacity? Since economies are rarely at full capacity, this implies more that stimulus is good most times, until it isn’t.

  19. Randy M says:

    Shouldn’t this be called “Is celebrating Christmas a meet harm” for consistency?
    Good job Scott.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Celebrating Christmas is less meat harm than one would naively suppose, because even if it were not being celebrated, most celebrants would still eat meat that day anyway.


  20. theredsheep says:

    Byzantine scholars seem to agree that the “original” St. Nicholas was also legendary–a conflation of some other St. Nicholas plus some other saints and a bunch of made up stuff. Oh well.

  21. imoimo says:

    After reading this post my mind feels strange; I look for more rhymes on every web page. Browsing my phone since I just now awoke, feels like friends on Facebook are in on the joke. Is there research on pattern-matching effects, with decay times for my mind to revert to good specs? Though if the habit persists, it’s not such a bad time; Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good rhyme!

  22. Silverlock says:

    Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good heavens, what’s that racket?

  23. The Pachyderminator says:

    For those curious or nostalgic about the “Was Christmas originally a reworked pagan holiday” debate that was so hot in the heyday of internet atheism, this literature review article seems to be a good starting point. (Free to read online, and it’s on sci-hub if you want a PDF.)

  24. Jacob says:

    To those celebrating and those who do not: merry Christmas to y’all, merry Christmas to Scott!

  25. AG says:

    Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, The Sneetches, The Zax, and The Butter Battle Book would all lend themselves nicely to this format. Seuss teaching the younguns the concept early, eh?

  26. Telomerase says:

    (!) Everyone is talking about rhyme scheme (BTW, screw you guys, Ben Jonson is going home: , and missed the alternate universe jump!

    From the reference link to Arcadia Publishing:

    “The real story of tracking Santa started as an effort to ease the general public’s fear of attack while the country was at the height of World War II. President Eisenhower reportedly ordered for a press release offering “Christmas Guidance” to war correspondents across the globe.”

    WTF? “President Eisenhower” in World War 2? That site isn’t reporting from Universe C-137! Track those crosstime raiders down and nuke them back to their own world-line.

    • bean says:

      You beta me to this comment. Also worth pointing out that CONAD turned into NORAD in 1958, well before the end of the Cold War. Someone who doesn’t seem to know when various wars happened should probably not be trusted on this.

  27. Karl Narveson says:

    it was most likely Jupiter shining near Saturn, but it’s only in autumn one sees such a pattern.

    Bah, humbug!

  28. jstr says:

    This is soooo brilliant!

  29. hnau says:

    I was tickled and warmed by this collaboration, but found it to be an imperfect creation. The Grinch’s engagement was feeble at best, for I see not all points were explored and addressed. For example: the paper makes preferences fixed, whereas if they’re in flux the conclusion’s more mixed. If we’re sure what we like then the gifts are a waste, but we might be improved by the gift of good taste.

    The write-up I rate as a six out of ten, but I thank both the authors; I’d read it again.

  30. thetitaniumdragon says:

    While deadweight loss on gifts is a potential issue, it’s worth noting that the holiday gift-giving season results in a lot of discounted prices. If the average gift I purchase is 25% below where it would cost otherwise, then the deadweight loss is outweighed by the sales discounts. There’s no particular reason to believe that sales would be as aggressive without the holiday shopping season, as the sales are used to drive customers to their stores in particular at a particularly high volume portion of the year, which means that the discounts likely are attributable to the holiday season.

    Moreover, the holidays also serve as an excuse to give people things of value. Giving people gifts of money out of the blue seems condescending, but people have a much harder time rejecting holiday gifts. I’ve bought people some very expensive presents as gifts before, that they would have likely felt much more awkward about had it not been at a socially ordained part of the year.

    As such, there’s probably positive utility from gift giving. And the near omnipresence of gift giving across cultures suggests it likely has some positive social value.

  31. discountdoublecheck says:

    Excellent ACC fic!

    Your link to Goeddeke and Birg is broken for some reason. Looks like it should be a subpart of the link that renders.