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Can you believe it? The big day is upon us, the day we look forward to all year long, that special time that sparks joyful anticipation in the eyes and minds and hearts of little kids everywhere, that calls families together and loved ones in from far and near to love and laugh and give and receive.

And of course all to commemorate and celebrate the birth of … well, you know.

In the stores, shops and malls there are happy displays of – well, ribbons and balls and lots of colors and shapes, all signifying … uh, a special winter holiday! Something’s missing. Most of us have felt it, but we’ve been under pressure not to specify what it is.

Oh, and the wonderful, poignant music of the season: I just read that the three most heard songs this year are “Rockin’ Around the … er, [special winter holiday] Tree,” and “I’ll Be Home for … [special winter holiday],” and of course the perennial favorite “White [special winter holiday].”

For all our lives, up to this very year, cheerful clerks in most every store have called out “Merry [censored]!” And we’ve happily responded, “Same to you, Happy New Year!” And these friendly, exuberant exchanges have not only lightened the stress of shopping but brightened the general atmosphere – to the point where people have actually ventured “I wish [special winter holiday] time could last all year!”

I don’t remember once, ever, hearing somebody object to the cheery greeting. Do you? Ever hear “I don’t believe in Jesus, so I wish you wouldn’t say that” from any individual?

I didn’t think so.

None but the most alienated, even bigoted, would deny a nation of predominately Christian people the happy freedom of expressing joy and good wishes during what’s always been the happiest season of our year. And even those narrow-minded few don’t deny themselves the perks and privileges of days off, sales, parties and other celebrations – none of which would exist were it not for … not for … you know.

Every other country with a predominant religion celebrates their holy days freely and openly, with no regard for the minorities that may not take part. That never has seemed to trouble any human rights commission anywhere on the planet, not once that I’ve been able to discover.

And nobody is forced to respond or say anything they don’t want to in America! But an angry few, with some always-willing lawyers, keep trying to shut the rest of us up.

Why? Well, there are a lot of partial answers, but they’re superficial, evasive. Some will surely disagree, but it’s crystal clear to me: There is a growing, virulent anti-God virus abroad in the land, far more real right now than any bird flu.

Carriers of this virus among us include some in very influential places who angrily chafe at the very idea of God, limitations on behavior, rules and restrictions of any kind. “Ten Commandments? Bosh! ‘Thou shalt not what?‘ Who says? I’m not taking orders from anybody. Shut up with your ridiculous religious notions. Keep your expressions of faith, of belief in some made-up deity, to yourself. You annoy me!”

Do you hear modern echoes of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”? I sure do. What made old Ebenezer so heartless and mean? It was his total self-absorption, his all-consuming greed and rejection of any expressions of charity – human or divine. To him, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim’s cheery optimism and good nature was infuriating, incomprehensible, and somehow a threat to his pinched, selfish worldview.

So he tried to shut them up. “Bah! Humbug!!”

Faced with our own Scrooges, are we going to cave in, just stifle our good wishes, lest someone somewhere may object?

Not me. And I hope not you. By the last few days’ news reporting, the likes of Wal-Mart, Sears and other major retailers are scurrying to paste “Merry Christmas” greetings on walls and windows, apparently after noting the polling that indicated around 70 percent of Americans having their backs up about this!

So, let’s shout, cry, sing, exclaim and carry on, more joyful and triumphant than ever, “Merry Christmas! God bless you this Christmas! Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Peace on earth, goodwill toward men!”

And if I still get fuss from the ACLU or other Grinches and Scrooges, I’ll … why, I’ll just respond cheerily, in my best Tiny Tim manner, “God bless us, one and all! And you have a happy hollowday!”

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