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December is a one-track month. Everything seems to be on hold for the first 24 days with all the talk about the 25th. We briefly ackowledge Pearl Harbor Day, a mass shooting or two and a constipated Congress, but the eye is on the season. Most secretly know that it may be more blessed to give, but it's cooler to receive. The halls are decked.

Personally, I think there isn't just one Christmas, but three: Christ-mas, Christmas and christmas. Each one is different and each is celebrated in its own way. In this diary, I'd like to note all of them.

    Christ-mas is a fairly short holiday, starting at midnight on the 24th and ending around midnight on the 25th. It’s primarily a holiday for Christians. It’s a time for church-going, for celebration of the birth of a very special baby and for listening to carols heard since infancy.. It’s a time to purge lives of hate and revenge, to listen to inspiring sermons and to sing hymns. It’s a time to relate to the wonder of the moving star and maybe dab away a tear at the music of a children’s bell choir.

     The second Christmas lasts a lot longer. It begins right after Thanksgiving, or sometimes well before,  and sometimes lasts until well into January, thanks to countless “after-Christmas sales.”. It caters to  no particular religion nor does it demand anything of its followers except a desire to buy things for themselves or others. It’s a democratic holiday. It practices no discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin or sexual preference. It is a holiday having as its patron saints Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Thousands of businesses depend on it for between thirty and forty percent of their total sales and profits. Although often accused of being crass or greedy, Christmas is something we’ve built into our economic system. If we stopped observing it, our economy could grind to a halt. This Christmas is about things, not thoughts. For many people, it’s the only holiday around.

     The last holiday, christmas, is the longest-lasting of all since it goes all year. It has no patron saints except perhaps those who work continuously to bring happiness to those who are a little sad, food to those who are a little hungry and caring to those who are a little lonely. Habitat for Humanity is a good example of christmas. So are all those who give up some comfort or luxury to share with the less fortunate. Christmas with a small “c” is a state of mind that never considers itself fulfilled until it helps fulfill others. In many ways, christmas is like Christ-mas except it, like Christmas, has no special religious requirements. Unlike Christmas, it doesn’t need anything for sale at half-price. Really, christmas is the not-so-hidden message we get from works like Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” or O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”.  It’s built on the idea that helping people makes the helper feel good as well as benefitting the people helped. Those who have been celebrating it for many years can tell you this is true.

All three of these holidays meet on December 25th. One reason so many people smile on this day is that they can extract the best of all three. There’s an angel on the tree waiting and wonderful presents to open to the music of a  new Christmas CD. “The Messiah” at church was fantastic. Maybe a check has gone out to a favorite charity or, equally important, a gift has been received by someone in need that makes the holiday merrier. The giver and receiver are both part of the holiday. Worshipping, getting and giving are all wrapped up in a holiday package.

To the old, this is the time to visualize the crunching of snow under boots or listening to bells over Salvation Army kettles . For the young, it’s a time to realize the worst of us and the best of us are entitled to the same rights and we have to work to make sure it stays that way.. To the timid, it’s time to gather strength from unity.  To all of us, it’s a day off and a time for hope. It’s a good time.
Merry Christ-mas.
Merry Christmas.
Merry christmas.


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