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Time to relax and enjoy the season

When I was a kid, I heard folks complaining pretty regularly about how commercialized Christmas had become.

In fact, it may have been the No. 2 complaint overall for the month of December. The No. 1 complaint for the entire month usually was reserved for Christmas Day itself, right after a kid had torn away the colorful wrapping paper and extracted the prize hidden inside, only to expose for the first time those three words every parent fears: "Batteries not included."

This encourages the parent - the father, usually - to get a glow in his face similar to that of Rudolph's shiny red nose as he exclaims to one and all the sentiment of the season: "Batteries? Batteries? Nobody said nothing about needing no batteries!"

No other lamentation came close to needing not only word repetition and an exclamation point, but the rarely employed triple negative to properly convey the magnitude of the situation.

The commercialization aspects had me concerned, however, even at a tender age when I was relying on relatively good behavior being enough to score me another train set with a red caboose. I was expecting to open the newspaper any day and see an ad with Baby Jesus entranced by the sight of a smoking, lighted locomotive chugging around a circular track beneath a Christmas tree while Mary and Joseph stood by, smiling and sipping on hot chocolate.

Fortunately, it's never come to that. But you know somebody, somewhere has pitched the idea.

Which is why I've gotten a little confused about the annual controversy that seems a bit more intense this year over whether stores should wish you a "Merry Christmas" or "happy holidays" with their signs. At first blush, you'd think that "happy holidays" would be a popular move with those who think Christmas is too commercialized. In all honesty, I hadn't paid that much attention to how, exactly, stores were dealing with this issue. I still couldn't tell you which stores say "Merry Christmas" and which ones want you to have yourself a generic little holiday. When I've been in stores for a Christmas-related purpose, I've been looking for other signs, ones marked with other popular seasonal phrases, such as: "open early, close late," "one-day sale," "doorbuster prices," "big markdowns" and, my personal favorite, "50 percent off already low sale prices."

I know how that sounds, but that's capitalism. When I'm in a store, I'm there for the purpose of buying something or comparing prices. I'm interested in availability of quality merchandise, good customer service and a fair price. If that all comes wrapped with some mood setters such as Christmas music in the background, decorations and signs, that's fine, too.

The bottom line is I don't go into a store to find religion. I carry my religion with me.

What'd be nice for a change would be for everyone to just lighten up a little bit and try to enjoy this time of year.

I celebrate Christmas. If I wish you a merry Christmas, that's why. I'm not trying to offend anybody. If I know you celebrate a different holiday, I'll wish you a happy one of those instead.

I'm also likely to say "season's greetings" or "happy holidays." It doesn't mean I'm downplaying Christmas, it's just that I think those are perfectly good phrases and it'd be a shame to never use them.

And if you celebrate something else and want to wish me, say, a happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, go right ahead.

I'll be happy to accept it ... in the spirit of the season.

Jim Hendricks is executive editor of the Albany Herald, sister paper of the Gwinnett Daily Post. He can be reached by e-mail at jim.hendricks@albanyherald.com.