There is not much “light” in the City of Lights this holiday season I realized, running around in pre-Christmas Paris. Of course, the big department stores have put up their usual tam-tam, but the little streets in the various villages and neighborhoods of Paris are darker than they used to be: “it doesn’t pay off” or “we can’t afford it anymore,” I hear from small merchants who used to put a lot of effort (and obviously a considerable budget) on making the spirit of the holidays come alive. Yes, times are more difficult, and margins have shrunken for many shop owners, but what does it mean that “it does not pay off”? We could now refer to the classic marketing expenditure rule that – as we learned in business school – 50% of expenses are always wasted; you just don’t know which 50%. But more substantially we have to ask why did we put up the lights in the first place and what does “pay-off” mean in this context?

My immediate response is that we put up lights to enlighten. Oneself, someone, or something beautiful. To throw the right light on somebody’s face. To make him or her smile. There would be no life without light, no warmth, no coziness, no sparkle to see in someone’s eyes. All that and much more would be lost without light. All that is “worth” to light the light.

However, the perception of worth seems to have shifted, and – while I acknowledge that high energy prices and economic factors might provide rational reasons to “un-lighten” our surroundings – I object to this distorted valuation and invite you to light a light, especially when resource constraints might force us to spend wisely. My grandmother used to say (pardon the language but it’s an original citation): “if the shit hits the fan and you lose that’s the time to open a bottle of champagne.” When times are prosperous you don’t need it. But in challenging times it is ever more so important to enlighten ourselves and spark excitement, engagement, and everlasting joy.

The idea of lighting candles at Christmas and then putting them on a tree dates back to Germany in the 17th century and eventually spread to other countries. The original idea was to lighten up the dark time of the year and later illuminate the ornaments adorning the tree. In Christianity, the custom goes back to when Christmas trees were decorated with candles, which symbolized Christ being the light of the world. The Christmas trees were brought by Christians into their homes in early modern Germany. But also, pagans lit a light and put it on trees around winter solstice.

It was the idea of light that created comfort & conviviality. It was especially in difficult times, that the light brought hope. That’s why we talk about the “light at the end of the tunnel.” It was and is also about thriving for an “ideal” state of for example peacefulness. This might exist only in our imagination; a desirable or perfect state of our being and the world but not likely to become a reality. However, we should not forget that the decision and action to light a light – for oneself or someone else – is up to us.

Everybody decides for him or herself whether you nurture your good & joyful soul or fall into discontent mode. Another saying of my grandmother comes to mind: “if you decide to go out and accept an invitation be a good guest.” Meaning: be there 100% and leave your worries or other negative emotions at home. You will be a joy for the party… and for yourself!

Walking through a less enlightened Paris my perception is that many of the ideas and associated ideals of this time of the year are increasingly getting lost. And if we do not act proactively against an increasingly un-lightened world and open that bottle of champagne or engage in a conversation with a long-forgotten neighbor or create a magical smile on someone’s face without perpetually asking whether it “pays off,” the dark corners of this world will spread and eventually take over.

We (in the Industrialized countries) are privileged to live in relative prosperity despite the worries of wars and climate change. Especially at this time of the year we should remember that for thousands of years our civilization has placed the individual and humanity at the center. This has taught us that individual freedom is essential, but we must keep in mind the pursuit of the common good. This has given birth to the Enlightenment (Emil Epp). Neither the Enlightenment nor Christianity imagined a perfect collective or world. However, both have always been imbued with the hope of a better world.

Throughout the history of humanity, no one has been able to predict what the world would look like twenty years from now. But every human can make a difference and contribute to a “well-lit” world, “be a light”, and enlighten. As Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky said: “There are no higher classes and societies; a person is elevated only by his heart.”

I’d like to close my holiday letter with a poem I transcribed many years ago from the series ALF (yes, that furry and wise alien that looked like an ant eater). It is entitled:

The Spirit of Christmas

It is within all of us, but it does not manifest in everyone.

It is the sparkle in the eyes that distinguishes the ordinary from the extraordinary.

It is the belief in the intangible that makes the tangible fade.

It is the heart of the soul that separates the trivial from the important.

It is the magic that surrounds us.

It moves and stills us at the same time – That is the Spirit of Christmas.

In a world where you can be anything be kind. And please spread the light.

At the beginning there was light (not the word as I believe). Nothing else can thrive without it and lighting a light is always worth the effort.

In this spirit, we look forward to joyful & enlightened exchanges with our clients and friends in the New Year 2024. We thank you for the opportunity & trust to “light a light” whenever possible and needed.

My perspectives are also published as a newsletter on LinkedIn. If you enjoy reading them and would like to be notified of a new edition, please subscribe here and please share them in your network.

Take care, be safe, and enjoy what you can in this holiday season.

#perspectivebykatharinajanus #enjoystrategy


Prof. Dr. Katharina Janus
President & CEO, ENJOY STRATEGY, Paris
Founder, Center for Healthcare Management, Paris

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