When I was a child, those two words were something I enjoyed hearing as the season of generosity approached. It filled me with a sense of sheer excitement as I waited for Dec. 25 to arrive, which grew stronger every time I heard a Christmas carol or I watched one of my beloved Christmas specials on the family's TV set.
Granted, I loved Christmas as a child because I enjoyed seeing a whole bunch of presents beneath the tree in my family's living room, including my first bicycle that I received in 1972. However, whenever someone said "Merry Christmas," it always seemed that I would reply in kind with a big smile on my face.
Oddly enough, however, those two words seem to have become a sort of taboo -- that somehow wishing someone the blessings of the season is now prohibited. It seems that Christmas is no longer politically correct, especially in today's hyper-sensitive, easily offended society in which people apparently need "safe zones" because they don't know how to deal with things they disagree with.
But those that know me best understand that I don't really care if I'm not politically correct. I served in this nation's armed forces for 25 years, so I think I've earned the right to say Merry Christmas if I wish.
Come to think of it, I don't think I need to ask permission to say those two words, but then, I digress.
The one thing I need to mention is that Christmas isn't some small holiday. It remains the most important holiday in the United States and most of the western world because it celebrates the birth of a baby who would go on to become the symbol of hope, peace, love and forgiveness throughout this world.
One of the traits that makes the United States so great is that it represents a tremendous amount of diversity. This nation is home to a myriad of cultures and beliefs from around the world, which is something we see quite clearly in the Mountain Home community every day.
Along with that diversity is that this country is also home to a number of different religions, each of which deserves a level of respect for those who follow those beliefs.
But the truth is that the United States is overwhelmingly Christian, and most of those followers are willing to grant respect for the beliefs of others. The way I see it, if they can extend that level of respect, then it should be expected that those of other beliefs grant a similar level of respect to the beliefs of Christians -- at least one time a year.
But regardless of how we celebrate the season, it always seems that this time of year brings out the best in us -- the core faith that most of us have. We see a lot more instances where people of all ages demonstrate the Christian spirit of giving and helping those less fortunate.
Everyone, regardless of your personal beliefs, benefit from that generosity.
We saw that in Mountain Home on Dec. 3 when hundreds of volunteers from the city and Mountain Home Air Force Base came together during this year's Shop With A Cop program. It clearly illustrated the meaning of the Christmas holiday -- a chance to bring the precious gift of hope and compassion to those who otherwise couldn't find a reason to celebrate the season of giving.
Over the years, I've been blessed with seeing firsthand how the programs directly benefitted families who otherwise would've seen few or no gifts beneath their Christmas tree. But what always stuck with me was how these children focused so much attention on ensuring their parents and siblings had gifts.
I don't recall ever seeing a child that worried about buying anything for themselves.
At the same time, we have the Giving Tree program, which provides additional help to the children of this community in the form of additional gifts, all of which are purchased by those willing to help those most in need. I need to include here that every one of those gifts are individually wrapped by a team of volunteers to add that personal touch.
But it doesn't stop there. When people in this community hear that the shelves at our local food banks are starting to run dry, they step forward with gifts of food. The annual Stuff the Bus effort alone collected enough food to fill the shelves of at least two local food banks in time for Thanksgiving and again for Christmas.
Other food drives held in recent weeks helped ensure that the shelves at our local food pantries are not only full but have enough left over to help them continue to provide help well into the new year. We tend to forget that the need doesn't end once we celebrate the new year.
Perhaps that's what make Mountain Home so special. Despite our own struggles in life, many of us are willing to stretch out a hand of compassion if it means making someone's life a little better, even if we don't know who we're helping.
In that same spirit of compassion and friendship, I'd like to offer a suggestion to help keep this Christmas joyous and memorable. Let's take a break from ourselves.
Let me explain.
Throughout the year, a lot of us spend an awful lot of time tearing down those who we disagree with or we feel that we have to quarrel with one another due to our differences in opinion. I'd like to see all of us keep our opinions to ourselves, even if it's just for a little while.
Instead, let's just be grateful for what we have and stop focusing so much on what we want or trying to force others into changing their beliefs. As we've seen following the presidential election, there are too many people out there that have taken things way too personal, and it's nothing they're going to be able to change. At some point, we simply need to accept how things are and move on.
At the same time, let's pause from our normal lives and celebrate what's truly important. For me, it means celebrating another year with my wife, our three children as well as our feline "children." At the same time, we do what we can to reach out to our parents, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces as well as all of our friends. All of them are always in our thoughts and prayers when we can't be together.
On behalf of myself, my wife, Brenda, and all our family, I hope you all enjoy the season to the fullest. I also hope you have the chance to celebrate the special gift of family you'll find gathered around the tree, either in person or in spirit.
May the blessings of the season be with you and your family, and have a very Merry Christmas, even if it isn't politically correct.
-- Brian S. Orban