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Noel Pineo

Like a lot of people in their 50s, for me the holiday season is a mixed emotional bag. For starters, I resent not being able to simply state "Merry Christmas" wherever I am. I struggle with the realization that the mere mention of Christ anywhere in the U.S. might be politically incorrect or in any way offensive to anyone of any religious creed or to anyone with no belief at all. I would not be offended by someone saying to me "Happy Hanukkah" or "have a great Kwanzaa." I have not a clue as to the significance of either of these events. I only know that by great coincidence these other holidays just happen to fall at the same time as Christmas. And I say bully for them. I am not offended.

This year, I have decided that I will simply return to the "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" greeting of my youth. Wishing people "Happy Holidays" is simply too depressing and disingenuous. Better to be true to thyself.

Other ghosts haunt my Christmas psyche -- poor relationships with friends and family that are coupled with unresolved conflicts that cut to the core of our basic ethical gridwork. With age comes the recognition that some rifts are too big to bridge. There is a knowledge that you will forever have fundamental differences with people that you profess to love. Christmas reminds me that I do not share the values of many people I used to call friends. Perhaps being reminded of this once a year is not such a bad thing.

If you do not earn a steady paycheck or have most of your money go to keeping the house warm and food on the dinner table, the nonstop hard sell on the TV can grate on you. In particular, when your kid, in a matter-of-fact manner, informs you of the must-have overpriced electronics device of the season. The resulting conversation usually goes badly.

In our household, an unwelcome and unwanted reminder that the event in question is a celebration of the birth of the savior of humanity is a poor substitute for hard cold cash. I tire of pulling the old tape out dusting it off and replaying it this time every year. The idea that material items can suffice for a meaningful relationship with our spouse and children is depressing to me. The crass materialism of the season seems to reach a crescendo earlier each year. And with every succeeding year it sounds louder and louder.

So like a lot of folks my age, I will muddle through the holidays. And I will try to keep the image of a little baby Jesus in a manger with Mary, Joseph and the three wise men looking adoringly upon. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

Noel Pineo is a nonpartisan community activist in Oildale. He is also a substitute teacher, amateur paleontologist and vintage bicycle hobbyist.