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I was forced to sing the only negative verse of a Christmas song put on for the school when I was in the sixth grade. It still bothers me.

You know the song: I heard the bells on Christmas day, the old familiar carols play …

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My solo part was the verse that went, "And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said …"

Bah, humbug!

It may have been that moment that shunted me toward a career in the halls of cynicism. Ten years later, I was drawing pay as a newsman, covering the controversial and contentious world of human interaction.

Oh, things were brighter on a personal level. Dad still put up a tree and a train garden each year, and I continued that tradition until my back went out. I make an effort to put up lights and garland so people won't think the Grinch lives here. We go to church and sing the old standards and hear the Christmas story again, and we all get together to exchange gifts and spoil the grandchildren.

The secular part of the holiday is easy. It's the religious part that's work.

If the Prince of Peace showed up for the celebration of His birthday in America, his arrival would set off rounds of debate.

The liberals would tick off the fundamentalists by pointing out that Jesus was and most likely still is a Jew. So what are you going to do about that?

Those who acknowledge that some differences still exist between good people who celebrate Hanukkah and those who celebrate the birth of Christ will be shunned by the absolutists who assert that those who are not pure in their religious beliefs will burn in Hell, and Happy Holidays to you, too.

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In fact, you can be attacked by good Christians who overhear you wishing someone Happy Holidays -- in the best traditions of the faith, of course. With love.

I can see the Guest of Honor just standing there, shaking His head.

If you try to split the difference and just let Christmas be for the little ones, you don't escape the vitriol.

The ascetics would make the rest of us feel guilty about spending money on our already privileged kids when there were starving children around, and the preachers assail us from the pulpit for forgetting the real meaning of Christmas.

Some TV station will run a story about how we shouldn't be so joyful when the season brings sadness to others.

This can just set off another volley of debates, or at least depression. So, maybe there's something to be said for approaching it the way kids do.

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I went to my grandson's school Christmas program the other night, only they don't call them Christmas programs any more. Grumble, grumble.

And I noted that the music included mostly secular Christmas standards – Jingle Bells and the like, with a somewhat oblique reference or two to Christian traditions. But there was also a song celebrating Hanukkah, and another song and a dance celebrating a Zimbabwean take on spiritual things.

They were all upbeat, and it occurred to me that they all shared something spiritually affirming.

Gee, could there be a message here?

The kids worked together as a team, and I was inspired by the pride in their faces when they got though a piece without forgetting words or hitting a sour note. They had worked hard, and it showed.

As I scanned their young faces I could imagine them growing into adults, living grown-up lives, learning, working. Loving life and each other.

Their teachers were proud. Their parents jostled to get pictures on tablets and smart phones.

No fist fights broke out.

Not a bad birthday party for anyone, no matter what your religious beliefs or philosophical observations about spirituality, or your politics or ethnic origins.

I'm going to call that a pretty hopeful way to observe the best of what I was taught as a child – even if part of the lesson was that grim verse reverberating through the hallways of an elementary school, and through time.

I went home feeling good.

Whatever it is, I wish the same for everyone. Well, most people.

Dean Minnich writes from Westminster. His column appears on Thursday. Email him at dminnichwestm@aol.com.

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