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Senior Correspondent

In earlier years I often got my knickers in a twist fuming about the commercialization of Christmas. “Santa has replaced the manger child! Ain’t it a shame? Grumble, grumble, grumble!” The issue has not gotten any simpler. The whiskered man in the red suit still increasingly dominates the season, and the manger has been increasingly replaced by the mall. But an important change has taken place in me. I am devoted to the story of the manger child. And while I still tend to avoid the malls and the hectic shopping sprees, I now spend more time and energy listening to those I casually encounter as they talk about childhood memories, family gatherings, the empty place at the Christmas table and ways they plan to do something for needy people they don’t even know. Some of those to whom I listen find themselves regularly in church. Some just show up at Christmas, and perhaps Easter. And others never darken the church door. But regardless of their religious practice, or even their religious attitudes — or lack of them — there is something about the carols and songs, the decorations, the colored lights framing the eves of houses or viewed through picture windows, the manger scenes and even the plastic snowmen silently performing their sentry duties on neighborhood lawns.

Some people sing out “Merry Christmas” to friends and strangers alike. Others say “Happy Holidays,” but it’s the same message. “No matter who you are, we are neighbors on this troubled planet, and at least for this short time, we have each other.”

Sometime during these days many of us will either see a production or listen to a reading of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and take pity on Ebenezer Scrooge with his dismal “humbug.” And if we run across someone who also sneers at the season because it is too religious or not religious enough, we will smile, perhaps invite them in for a hot drink and recall the words of Scrooge’s nephew when confronted with his lonely, old, grumpy uncle.

Humbug uncle? I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!

And finally we will recall the words of Tiny Tim, who was not making a theological statement, but offering a heart-warming song of love to anyone with ears to hear and hearts softened by the season, when he said, “God bless us, every one.”

So whoever you are and wherever you find yourself in life’s journey, my word to you echoes that sentiment, and I also say, “God bless us, everyone!”

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