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It's hard to believe this is the last Grunion printed before Christmas Day, 2019. The season seems to have snuck up on us, hasn't it?

The annual Christmas column is both the boon and the bane of a columnist. It's a boon because that's at least one week where there's no doubt what the column topic will be. It's a bane because there are oh so many ways you can unintentionally alienate readers.

Start with the very concept of Christmas — the celebration of Jesus Christ's birth. I don't even have to bring up the topic of the Immaculate Conception to get sideways with lots of folks here.

If you want to stay out of trouble as a columnist, you steer away from two topics — politics and religion. (Might want to throw sex in there, too.) But staying out of trouble is about the worst measure of success I can think of for a person, let alone a writer.

I've gotten into trouble writing about Christmas versus Xmas. I've also gotten into trouble writing about Druids and paganism, too, but that's a different story.

I do worry about excluding my Jewish friends (yes, I have friends — and some of them are Jewish). Christmas, at least the noncommercial part, doesn't speak to Muslims, Hindus or people practicing other religions.

For the most part, those folks don't seem to mind when I talk about Christ, or the concept of God and salvation. The ones who get really worked up are those who profess to not believing in God at all.

Some of them claim that my belief is being imposed on them — that they are insulted seeing a nativity scene, let alone a cross. I'm honestly confused by that bit of if-then logic, and honestly mad when that premise is stretched to the point it curtails my ability to express my beliefs.

Sorry. Didn't mean to get so far away from the Christmas theme. But maybe it gives you a little insight into what goes through my head when I switch the columnist light on.

These same "don't offend anyone" thoughts go through the minds of most editors, too. Perhaps that's why the single most famous editorial (read column) about Christmas wasn't about Christ. It was about Santa Claus.

Start a sentence with "Yes, Virginia" anywhere in this country, and chances are the reply will be "there is a Santa Claus."

That's the defining phrase of a Sept. 21, 1897, editorial in a paper called the New York Sun. Many publications reproduce it to this day. To be sure, it is a work of art.

The editorial argues for the existence of the concept, not the actual man. Santa Claus stands for love and generosity and devotion. No Santa? "There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance."

Put another way, Santa embodies the hope, the generosity, the caring that is the best of humankind. And he brings it out specifically for Christmas.

The Bible rephrases it as "Peace on Earth, good will toward men," or in really modern translations, good will toward mankind. Luke 2:14 in my Bible actually says "on earth peace, good will toward men." You get the idea.

I won't lie; I'd be happy if you believed as I do. But whether you believe in Christ, in Santa Claus, the concept of Santa Claus, or none of the above, I truly do hope you find peace and happiness this season.

Merry Christmas.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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