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No matter what you call it, Christmas is a special time

Well, Mike Huckabee has really done it now! Imagine, a person who is running for president of these United States had the audacity - the unmitigated gall - to air a television commercial in Iowa, the very heartland of our country, in which Silent Night played in the background and he (gasp!) actually wished people a Merry Christmas. And some even say that the window panes in the background were shaped like a cross!

I ain't making this up. Folks on the far left are trying to make political hay over the fact that the presidential candidate from Arkansas, who is a former Baptist minister, openly acknowledges that a vast majority of this nation's citizens are celebrating Christmas this week and not some obscure "winter holiday."

Well I say, "Good for Mike Huckabee."

And it's almost here, isn't it? It really hit me Thursday morning, which was the first day of my Christmas break.

That's one advantage of teaching school for a living. You get a couple of weeks off at Christmas, although the ACLU insists the down time be called "winter holidays." (See Huckabee comments above.)

They can call it Hallomakwansmus for all I care, as long as I don't have to go to school and teach the Progressive Era until after I get back from the Sugar Bowl.

The first hour of the day is always my favorite, but never more so than in that precious time leading up to Christmas.

Despite the hustle and bustle and stress of shopping and decorating; despite the special dinners every night of the week and the long honey-do list I am left every day as my lovely wife, Lisa, who is not a teacher, heads off to work, there is something exceedingly peaceful about sitting in front of the fireplace with a fragrant Fraser fir, decorated to the hilt, peeking over my shoulder as I sip coffee, read through the morning paper and glance outside from time to time at the cold gray sky and freshly barren oak trees that surround my home.

Anyone who has ever met me knows that I have a few rough edges, but I have a romantic soul. I always have and pray that I always will.

Thursday morning, as I sat and soaked up the precious solitude that is so rare in today's fast-paced society, I glanced around the room, taking in the many decorations that have transformed our family room - which is always a warm and welcoming place - into a haven of holiday cheer.

Our tree is enormous - the angel on top having to duck to avoid scraping her head on the 18-foot-tall vaulted ceiling. The 18th century Seth Thomas clock that my father left me looks particularly elegant, surrounded by magnolia leaves and holly and red berries. The houses in the miniature snow village that is spread along the remainder of the mantle are all aglow and the giant wreath that dominates the massive brick wall surrounding our fireplace looks as fresh and welcoming as it did when we hung it there the day after Thanksgiving.

There are at least six Nativity scenes scattered about the room, including one made of fine china by the good people at Lenox. Lisa and I began collecting those pieces one at a time - even though we couldn't afford them - on our first Christmas as husband and wife. Twenty-five years later, the collection is complete and occupies a place of honor on my roll-top desk. And the bookcases along the back wall of the room have been cleared of most of the books while stockings, snow globes and Christmas toys from more than two decades of family building hold court, at least for another week.

And, yes. In the corner of the room the "tacky" mechanical Santa that my wife tries to discard every Dec. 26 is still in place, although his "ho ho hos" are a bit unpredictable these days. He is as much a part of Christmas at our house as the annual reading of Dickens' classic tale of Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit.

And of course there are presents under the tree. Lots and lots of them, although I have yet to buy any.

As I sat and counted my blessings, I was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past and in my mind's eye I took a quick glance at the living room of the little mill village house in which I was raised.

No towering Christmas tree there, but one of the Charlie Brown variety with one string of lights, a few glass ornaments, strings of popcorn and cranberries and lots of icicles. The "fireplace" was a pot-bellied coal-burning stove, and the only decorations in the room were some glass-wax stenciled designs on the windows and some red and green construction paper chains.

The number of presents under the tree was always very sparse. But I enjoyed and appreciated Christmas then every bit as much as I do now, because the reason for the celebration hasn't changed in over 2000 years.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.