In a world that sometimes seems as if it's gone mad, Christmas can be a sanity-preserving respite. Whether you observe the day as a commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the gentle prophet of Nazareth who personifies the Christian church, or simply as a day of peace and rest, Christmas can -- if we let it -- provide a happy and restorative interlude in the oppressive rush and crush of life.

If you're sharing Christmas Day with family or close friends, relax and enjoy; they (or you) will go home soon enough. Try to look for the good in everyone in your company -- hopefully as a matter of ongoing policy, but especially today. Aunt Polly's lime Jell-O mold may be borderline inedible, but your feigned enjoyment of said mold will make Aunt Polly very happy -- happier than that new sweater ever could. Brother-in-law Joey's rough language and rougher exterior might grate on your sensibilities, but think about the times he's shown charity and empathy toward others. His essential goodness is there somewhere, under that tough first layer. Today, try to rise above ego and pride, obsessive-compulsiveness and criticism -- yours and others' -- and respond with patience and cheer.

If you're spending Christmas Day alone or with a small group of "orphan" acquaintances, you might consider an outing: a Christmas Day church service, for example, or a soup kitchen that could use a few volunteer table-wipers. Communion with others -- in either the Christian or the general, secular sense -- always lifts the spirits.

Don't expect this day to be perfect -- Christmas almost never is. We set ourselves up for frustration and disappointment when we try to pull off a Donna Reed/Martha Stewart/Rachael Ray day of gracious living. You might nail the turkey, and here's hoping you do, but your imperfect guests will always be in the way of the unattainable. Chill and enjoy. Celebrate imperfection. Everyone will appreciate it.

Whether or not you are religious or spiritual in nature, remember that Christmas is, first and foremost, a religious observance. As the host of a Christmas gathering, don't be afraid to celebrate it as such if you are of that mind, and if you're not, be respectful of those who are. But don't preach, from either position. We are a nation of tolerance when it comes to religion and conscientious lack of religion.

It's fashionable for Christians today to complain that Christianity is under siege, that the forces of secularism would rip every last meaningful tradition away from holidays like Christmas. But our very right to observe this day in the manner we choose, to attend church, to display Nativity scenes, to wish others Merry Christmas, contradicts that. To see Christianity truly under siege, visit the Holy Land, where Christians in a number of countries fear the rise of fundamentalist Islam where tolerant, nominally Muslim regimes once maintained protective control.

Enjoy the day as it best suits your family traditions, knowing that as an American, it's your right and, if you choose to embrace it, your blessing. Merry Christmas.