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 JKarlUSMC@aol.com.