Just say Noel

CHRISTMAS is upon us. We made it one more time. Each year my wife and I timidly approach the season by saying, ``Now, we're not going to make a lot of Christmas this year. Don't buy me anything.'' Perhaps other people say this, too. We say it, I think, in fear of falling short of what is expected of us.

Christmas just seems too big a thing to encounter every year. One can enter upon other holidays like Washington's Birthday, the Fourth of July, or Arbor Day without obligation. They are simply there. One has a picnic, or whatever, and that is that.

But Christmas enters our consciousness bigger than life, demanding - in the spirit of love and goodwill - that we shape up spiritual-wise. My wife thinks the spirit of Christmas is so pervasive that it touches even the birds around our house. Cranky, the snowy egret, and Fishface, the great white heron, get treats of smelts, on the assumption that they, too, can feel the brighter promise in the world. Rollo, the pelican, does a clumsy dance of joy over a tidbit.

Christmas consumes thought. The record-breaking crowds that flock to stores the day after Thanksgiving establish for the press and public a barometer as to the success or failure of Christmas. Somehow the world seems betrayed if sales are down, as if people of goodwill don't realize their debt to their fellowman.

Despite all our evasions and protestations, Christmas comes on relentlessly. The little red-ribboned gifts - like pledges to do better - appear as usual on Christmas morn. A rather unpretentious Christmas tree returns with well-used decorations from last year, and the year before, and the year before that. On top is the slightly crooked silver star from ages past, shining rather faintly through its tarnish.

Christmas is here once more. We feel good in spite of ourselves. And the light of the star, after all, is really in our hearts.

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