[Note: This article originally ran on Dec. 24, 1998. It has been revised and updated for this year.]
ALEXANDRIA, VA (Dec. 28, 1999) --
"In this world, which is so plainly the antechamber
of another, there are no happy men. The true
division of humanity is between those who live in
light and those who live in darkness. Our aim
must be to diminish the number of the latter and
increase the number of the former. That is why
we demand education and knowledge."
-- Victor Hugo
Before we light this candle, let me mention that if you haven't checked out our new Retirement area, you're doing yourself a disservice. It's chock-full of valuable information for those of us planning for retirement as well as those currently in retirement. Best of all, it's put together and maintained by Fool Dave Braze, who has plenty of experience in this arena, having retired twice already. Dave has even created three $100,000 real-money portfolios (funded with his own moolah), with which he'll be demonstrating over the years how conservative, aggressive, and middle-of-the-road investors might manage their money while in retirement. Check out this area, Fool.
Let's proceed now to the heart of tonight's report: light. As Victor Hugo so eloquently said, education helps people live in the light. What does this have to do with The Motley Fool and the holiday season? Well, plenty.
It should be obvious to many that the Fool is trying its darnedest to offer education about personal finance to all. We do it on our website, on our radio show, in our newspaper feature, and in our books. We even do it in elevators and airplanes, whenever some unenlightened person unwittingly begins talking to us. For there are too many people still in the dark. Too many people put all their life savings and their trust in underperforming mutual funds. Too many people don't even get that far, neglecting to save and perhaps even getting mired in credit card quicksand.
Look in the shadows around your life. Is that your sister living in financial darkness? Is that a black hole in your workmate's wallet? Is your neighbor taking "fliers" on hot stock tips or lottery tickets?
What's separating these folks from financial enlightenment? Is it... you? Are you enjoying the brightness all around you and at the same time casting a shadow on some people close to you? Step aside, Fool. Guide some loved ones to the light. Sit down with your sister and help plan her escape from credit card debt. Buy your neighbor a book on personal finance. Introduce your workmate to the Fool -- we're free, and open 24 hours a day. Getting nudged in the direction of financial security might be the biggest favor these folks ever receive. Imagine the pleasure of seeing a light bulb go on over their heads!
Light plays an important role at this time of the year. And I'm not just talking about Christmas, with its Advent candles, Christmas trees, and Main Streets festooned and sparkling. (Of course, the real Christmas story began with just one light, shining overhead.)
Just as Christians around the world have recently celebrated Christmas, the faithful of many other faiths are likewise gearing up for or recovering from their own holidays. Interestingly, in many of them, light is an important element. (Perhaps because we're at the shortest days of the year, light is more precious now.)
Let's review some major religions and see what investing lessons we might draw from their holidays. We can do this because The Motley Fool is an open forum, respecting freedom of religion and freedom of financial opinion. (Within limits, of course. Technical analysis-oriented day-traders and followers of the Order of the Sacred Shrimp may be happier hanging out elsewhere.) If you're new to Fooldom and only read these Rule Breaker Portfolio reports, know that there are other portfolios in our Hall of Portfolios, run by different Fools with different approaches. Likewise, on our message boards, there are hundreds of boards and thousands of opinions.
Consider Hanukkah, which has just passed. It's the Jewish Festival of Lights, lasting eight days, with a candle being lit on the first night and additional candles added on successive nights. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem. Looking at a menorah with nine candles, one might imagine a healthy Foolish portfolio, shimmering with nine stocks. The typical Fool should aim to hold between (roughly) eight and fifteen stocks. You'll need to understand and follow each one, so you shouldn't have more than you can handle. (Ever seen a birthday cake with scores of candles on it? Too many to control, too many to blow out... wax meltdown!)
For Hindus, autumn brings Diwali, one of the religion's biggest holidays, lasting five days. It's also called the Festival of Lights. One of the goddesses most feted at Diwali is Lakshmi. Of interest to Fools, she's the goddess of wealth and prosperity (among other bounties, such as health, family, and brains). Diwali observers attend to removing darkness from their homes and hearts: cleaning, opening windows, and setting right their frames of mind. Lights are also lit around the home, with rivers lit up at night by myriad candles floating down them.
Diwali might inspire Fools to regularly scrub their portfolios clean. If there are some hopeless turkey investments still sitting in your portfolio, consider getting rid of them. (Read up on the tax implications first, though, online or in our new tax book!) Once your portfolio is whittled down to the stocks you understand best and believe in most, it will take on a new glow of its own.
Occurring just after Christmas is Kwanzaa, celebrating African and African-American values and traditions. It lasts seven days, with each day dedicated to one of the following seven principles: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). Not surprisingly, the holiday also includes the lighting of Kwanzaa candles.
The principles above relate well to Fooldom. Look at our message boards and you'll see cooperative economics in action. And a little unity, too. Creativity abounds, particularly in Fribbles. By taking control of our finances, we can determine our futures.
Buddhists observe Bodhi Day in November or December, commemorating Buddha's enlightenment, which took place around 596 B.C. The light for this holiday is one of revelation, as the Buddha finally discovered the root of suffering: desire. There might be some Fools out there who've circled on their calendars the date when they experienced their own financial enlightenment. Others may have noticed that the root of stock market suffering is often desire. It's greed that makes us think about risky and un-Foolish enterprises like options, futures, and titanium mines in upper Kazakhstan.
Ramadan, observed by Muslims in honor of Mohammed's revelations, began a few weeks ago and lasts 30 days. It involves fasting from sunrise through sunset (no mean feat for Muslims near the Arctic Circle when it falls in summer). Light plays a part in this tradition, too. If I recall correctly from my expatriate childhood in a Muslim country, fasting ended when a designated person holding a hair from a black goat and a hair from a white goat could no longer tell them apart and began again when he could. (Cannons were fired, to let people know when the moment occurred.) Many Muslims believe that by fasting, they not only worship God, but also gain insight into what it's like to be poor and hungry, thus fueling charitable giving.
Here at the Fool, we're also in favor of contributing what we can to those who don't have what we have. We won't ask you to fast, though. Instead, we ask that you grab a few dollars and send them on their way to our annual Foolanthropy charity drive. (Act now! The drive ends in just three days!) We realize that you can and probably do already contribute to other causes you favor, but please take a few minutes to read about what we're up to here. At the very least, just read about our five fascinating charities. Most are working wonders in some very cool and innovative ways. We'd like every Fool out there to consider sending in something -- even if just a few dollars. Be counted, so that we can see how many Fools with hearts are out there. Let's not, in the words of Shakespeare, "waste our lights in vain, like lamps by day."
Finally, let's return to Christmas. To Christians, the holiday commemorates a big gift from God. Thanks partly to American ingenuity and capitalism, we've transformed the holiday into one of massive giving to each other. (It's funny when you think about it. God offers forgiveness and grace. We offer fruitcakes, fluffy slippers, and Pokemon merchandise.)
Fool, this year, when you admire the lights of the season, think about how you can spread some financial light to others around you. Scrub down your portfolio so that your holdings can shine more brightly. Light a candle for self-determination. Lend a hand to those who don't have what you have. And...