J. KARL MILLER: Have a merry Christmas — I certainly intend to

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 | 6:00 a.m. CST

For as long as I can remember, a period spanning 70-odd years, I have had an unabashed and unashamed love affair with Christmas. 

The month between Thanksgiving and the day that heralds the arrival of Santa Claus was, to my two brothers and me, and remains a period of wonderful memories and glorious anticipation.

We were extremely fortunate in that our mother and father  believed in the Yuletide season and kept Christmas in the holy sense as well as encouraging our belief in Santa Claus as embodying the spirit of Christmas.

Our fondest recollections of the season included going to early to bed, albeit reluctantly, on Christmas Eve, alternately confident and hopeful that Santa would reward or overlook our year's behavior with something other than lumps of coal or switches and  ashes.

Although money was tight in the 1940s, I don't recall ever being disappointed in the array of presents under the tree — except for  those universally unpopular gifts of handkerchiefs, socks and underwear.

Our most memorable Christmas day was in 1948.  Each of us received baseball gloves autographed by St Louis Cardinal greats: Marty Marion (my glove), Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. 

And, lo and behold, on that 25th day of December, we were blessed with an unseasonably 70-plus degree sunny day, enabling us to break in our gloves correctly.

Among the highlights of the season was the community participation — our little country school put on an annual Christmas pageant, the stage erected by pupils in first through eighth grade, including about 20 to 25 students. 

The program consisted of two or three skits, some recitals and the singing of Christmas carols, traditional as well as popular.

At the ripe old age of 8 years, I memorized and soloed in "A Visit from St Nicholas" ("Twas the Night before Christmas"). 

To my mother's eternal gratitude, I was finally able to recite the line "away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters and threw up the sash" without the inflection of "upchucking the sash."

We also kept Christmas in the religious, as well as the secular mode, as Christians celebrate the birth of Christ or the Nativity. Regardless of one's religious or non-religious preference, few songs are more moving than the traditional hymns. 

Anyone who has ever heard Anne Murray or Johnny Mathis sing "Silent Night" and not been moved is different, to say the least.

It would not be Christmas without the movie classics, "The Miracle on 34th Street" (the original), "It's a Wonderful Life" and the various productions of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." 

While the 1938 version of "A Christmas Carol" starring Gene Lockhart and the 1951 movie with Alistair Sim are the best acted, my personal favorite will always be "Magoo's Christmas Carol."

Nevertheless, the most poignant for me is 1983's "A Christmas Story," featuring 9-year-old Ralphie and his quest for the official Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range-level air rifle. 

That 1940s-era movie was my nostalgia era, complete with the secret decoder devices gained from Ovaltine labels, pilot-type head gear with goggles, real Christmas trees and constant flat tires with multi-patched tubes.

I understand that not everyone — not even every Christian — observes Christmas, and the birth of Christ is not celebrated by all religious sects. 

It is also no secret that among those who do not mark the anniversary, there is a minute but shrilly rude minority who view the celebration and its trappings as an attempt to impose a state religion, an affront to non-Christians, a dangerous escape from reality for children or as a pagan ritual — take your choice.

Further, the politically correct bullying of merchants, schools, department stores and even individual citizens has caused many to be so fearful of offending, hence they feel the necessity of the generic "Happy Holidays" as a greeting in lieu of recognizing the season correctly as Christmas.

In return, I encourage being charitable and tolerant of their beliefs, fears or idiosyncrasies; however, I expect them to return that tolerance in the manner in which it is extended.  Rather than be goaded to anger at such boorish intolerance, instead feel sorry for the small-minded minority.

A "Merry Christmas" will be my response to each "Happy Holidays" as "the season to be jolly" requires a measure of good will to and from all.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Ellis Smith December 14, 2011 | 7:36 a.m.

Sounds pretty much like my childhood Christmases, but just a few years later.

The high point of Christmas was singing "Silent Night," with only candle light and sans any musical instruments, in German, just as it is said they first sang it long ago in Austria:

Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Alles schlaft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab' im lockigen Harr,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

Ein gesegnetes Weihnachtsfest!

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen December 14, 2011 | 8:28 a.m.

Thank you, Colonel. Merry Christmas.

Frohliche Weihnacht, Herr Smith.

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frank christian December 14, 2011 | 9:48 a.m.

My memories of the early Christmas season for me, are here in Columbia and as with the Col. are soured by the incessant "politically correct bullying" of today.

My memories include the Choir that each of the 5 primary public schools always maintained. I was in the choir, everyone wanted to be in the choir. We practiced the traditional Christmas hymns at school and before Christmas Day, the United Methodist Church would host the public on a pre-announced evening and the choirs of the public schools would, standing in the upper seating, or loft of the church sing all the Hymns accompanied by the beautiful organ installed there. As Kevin Costner might say "they came". There would barely be breathing room much less empty "standing room" for the citizens in attendance.

I inquired to be certain that this gathering was no longer occurring at the the Church, told "no, not here at least".

Going out on a limb, I might ask, how many law suits could be derived from practicing Christian Hymns in a public school, then assisting the students with their recital in a Christian Church?

(Report Comment)
Gary Straub December 14, 2011 | 10:32 a.m.

So, how would you guys feel about allowing traditions from all spiritual belief systems to be practiced in public schools? Or how about if only Buddhist traditions were allowed. I am pretty sure these thoughts were in the mind of the framers of our constitution. Personally I would like to see one hour a day allowed for all students to practice whatever faith they believe in. May your Christmas be merry and bright.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 14, 2011 | 11:01 a.m.

frank christian wrote:

"how many law suits could be derived from practicing Christian Hymns in a public school, then assisting the students with their recital in a Christian Church?"

Probably very few.

Here is a synopsis of legal decisions regarding what is permissible in holiday observances in public schools. You'll notice religious symbols, carols, and religious subject matter for assignments are all legal and protected by many court decisions.

Some people are less tolerant than others. However, few people file suit over something as small as a Christmas carol in a public school. There is no "war" on Christmas.


(Report Comment)
frank christian December 14, 2011 | 11:46 a.m.

Mark - Letter from Alliance Defense Fund -

"Dear Superintendent:
It is our understanding that you have recently received a letter from the ACLU of Tennessee concerning the celebration of various holidays. The purpose of this letter is to clarify this area of the law and to respond to the ACLU’s conclusion that if your school recognizes Christmas without recognizing every other seasonal holiday, the constitution is somehow violated."

It takes only a "few people" to file suits if threats do not suffice when an organization such as ACLU is funded to any required measure by ultra-wealthy liberals among us. Why would you refer to "few people" when this legal vulture is hovering over every school district in the country. The ADF had to be formed to provide the same free legal service to school districts and individuals that is being foisted against them by ACLU. This is when it became "war".

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Rob Robinson December 14, 2011 | 1:59 p.m.

Karl - That was a nice column, at least until the end when you went into your rightwing War on Christmas rant. Couldn't you have left it at nice reflections on Christmas when you were a child? Does everything have to be political?

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble December 14, 2011 | 2:34 p.m.

A lovely column, for the most part. I am not religious, but I have many fond Christmas memories and still celebrate it with my family, also in a non-religious way. (Miller's reference to "Yuletide" correctly identifies the pagan roots of the holiday.) I share Miller's affection for the season, its rituals, and its songs and films.

The idea of using "Merry Christmas" as a response to "Happy Holidays" is interesting. "Happy Holidays" is a greeting with inherent concern for the other - that is, I don't know what you believe, but I wish you well. Saying "Merry Christmas" to someone whose beliefs you don't know is more self-focused - conveying an assumption of general acceptance of your own rituals. I wouldn't call either approach wrong, but they each say something about the speaker's concern for the other.

Miller's message about tolerance regardless of what you receive from others is well-spoken and something we should all follow. I'd extend the additional challenge to not just tolerate others, but be mindful of them in how you choose to deliver your holiday wishes, or any wishes. Concern and thoughtfulness is much more meaningful than simple mutual tolerance.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders December 14, 2011 | 5:44 p.m.

You know, if it weren't for the indoctrination centers d.b.a. "public schools" there wouldn't be any issues of segregation between church and state, two wholly incompatible religious institutions.

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Tim Trayle December 14, 2011 | 7:54 p.m.

Kevin G. hits it spot on. Very nicely-put.

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Jim Clayton December 14, 2011 | 8:14 p.m.

Thanks for the memories Karl;I too have had many enjoyable Christmases. My wife and I still watch Miracle on 34th Street and the Alistair Sim Christmas Carol. He was certainly by far the best.We also watch the Laurel and Hardy March of the Wooden Soldiers. Of course they show the famous Christmas Story about Ralphie on cable 24 hrs on Christmas Day.

When I was in college in the 60's,my roomate and I both big Christmas fans started what we called The Santa Clause Commission stating rules to follow for Christmas.For instance, no skinny Santas ringing bells.No skimpy beards.All beards had to be fluffy and all Santas inspected by the Commission. No advertising in stores until after Thanksgiving when Santa is ushered in by the Mavey's parade. Any violations would be reportedto the Commission and all violaters would be handed a citation with a disgruntled Santa on it and fined. Of course it was all in fun and I still talk about it with my friends to this day. Merry Christmas to all.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 14, 2011 | 8:51 p.m.

Kevin discusses "speaker's concern for the other."
________________________ come no one seems concerned about a Christian recipient (i.e., the "other" in your comment above)? Perhaps they would like to hear Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays!

Not thinking about this particular side says something about "speaker's concern", also.


(Report Comment)
frank christian December 14, 2011 | 9:24 p.m.

"Not thinking about this particular side says something about "speaker's concern", also.

No? YES!

Kevin, not religious, and Rob,likes to think of Christmas, but would rather ignore the attempt to remove it from our culture because the attempt is "political", are apparently among those willing to stand aside, be tolerant and allow the source of their hope and faith to be removed and replaced with the force of their Government. Questions will be readily accepted and answered.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle December 14, 2011 | 10:04 p.m.

Merry Christmas! And, Happy New Year, everyone!

I'd sing you a Christmas carol, but that would just be mean.

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle December 15, 2011 | 6:41 a.m.

Michael Williams wrote this: " come no one seems concerned about a Christian recipient (i.e., the "other" in your comment above)? Perhaps they would like to hear Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays!"

I won't presume to speak for Kevin, but I believe he is referring to situations--not uncommon in many of our encounters--where you can't *know* the religious identity of the person to whom you're speaking. If I can see that the person I'm speaking with is a Xian, I'm more than happy to wish them a merry Xmas.

The idea of a "war" on Xmas, or some kind of concerted campaign to "remove" it from society is a paranoid fantasy. What we're seeing is merely the inevitable, slow and gradual type of cultural adjustment that happens in any non-totalitarian society that is becoming a society of many cultures and faith (or free-thinking) traditions. The sky is not falling.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 15, 2011 | 9:45 a.m.


But I never said the sky was falling.

If I'm in the US, I'm probably gonna say "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!" at this time of year regardless of the company.

If I'm in some other country/society, I probably won't.

I don't practice political correctness much.

But I'm ok with situational awareness.

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle December 15, 2011 | 5:53 p.m.

I imagine that many people will be glad that Michael Williams is okay with "situational awareness."

Me too: I'll use that situational awareness to wish others Happy Xmas, Happy Holidays, etc., as the situation seems to present, regardless of what country I happen to be in, because I don't see it as a *national* (or nationalist) matter. It's not "political correct" to consider others; it's just...civil.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 15, 2011 | 6:18 p.m.

Tim: It's "political correctness", but not civility, when legal penalties are exacted for not doing the former.

You've confused the two; they are not synonyms.

And, you missed my point about "country/society". No nationalism was intended; situational awareness WAS intended. I probably would not wish most people I meet casually a "Merry Christmas!" in Israel, Iran, China, Japan, a hanukkah or islamic celebration, or in the hallways of the Society for Creation of Atheist Beings (SCAB).

Well, ok...I'd say it in the latter. Just to be ornery.

Everywhere else in the US, I'm going with Merry Christmas. Most will thank me and return the favor. If not...well, I learned about their concern for others. "Learning" is a good thing, dontcha think?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle December 15, 2011 | 11:24 p.m.

On acknowledging Christ during Christmas:

"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves" ~Matthew 21:12 King James American version

"Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves;" ~Mark 11:15 New American Standard Bible (©1995)

I would like to note that knocking over the tables of the money changers is one of the only documented acts of violence Jesus Christ ever committed.

"He will answer them, 'I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you failed to do for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant [they seemed], you failed to do for me.'" ~Matthew 25:45 GOD'S WORD® Translation (©1995)

(Report Comment)
R. Whitfield Smith December 16, 2011 | 8:08 p.m.

Well done from one Marine to another. Merry Christmas and Semper Fidelis.

R. Whitfield Smith

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