First Person / The holiday spirit

There's no war on the things that really matter at Christmas

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I don't watch Fox News.

I've tried a few times, but I always wind up shouting at the television, which is counterproductive and scares my cats.

Still, I've been hearing about the network's interesting notion that there is a war on Christmas. All anyone has to do is suggest that the county courthouse might not be the best place for a nativity scene or call a Christmas tree a holiday tree and somebody at Fox will start shouting.

I grew up in Squirrel Hill. I have known for most of my life that not everybody celebrates Christmas. Apparently the folks at Fox didn't have my advantages.

Unless you listen to National Public Radio, you may not know that this year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, author of "A Christmas Carol."

Charles Dickens was a great author. I know this because my father told me so, regularly, starting shortly after I learned to read. Dad loved Dickens. I grew up with Mr. Pickwick smiling down at me from the mantelpiece and Mr. Micawber waiting for something to turn up on the plate rail.

As soon as I was old enough to manage 19th-century prose, I got to know the characters for real. Beginning with Bob Cratchitt, Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge.

The story starts with Scrooge dismissing Christmas as a humbug, a fraud. Visits from three ghosts show him that the Christmas spirit may not last long, but it's a wonderful thing when it's here.

Scrooge converts, but he doesn't trim a tree. The English didn't have Christmas trees when Dickens was writing the story. He doesn't put up a nativity scene. He does wish people a merry Christmas. But more important, at least to Mr. Dickens, he opens his wallet.

After his encounter with the spirits, Scrooge the tightwad became a generous man. One who "kept Christmas in his heart all year round."

I have been thinking about Mr. Scrooge because a great many people are asking me to open my wallet at this time of year. I have, but there's not a whole lot in it.

Would I buy a gift for a senior citizen in a nursing home? A toy for a needy child? Some groceries for a poor family? Would I do something for the homeless? The USO? The Humane Society? Doctors Without Borders? Children's Hospital? The list goes on and on.

I would if I could. I am doing as much as I can. But my means are limited.

Most of my friends say the same thing. If they had more, they'd give more. They're writing checks, putting money in kettles, purchasing and donating gifts for the needy.

More often than not, they are rewarded with thanks. Then the charities, like another famous Dickens character, ask for more.

Apparently there is more need than there are generous souls in this world.

So I'm issuing this challenge to all the Christmas warriors out there. This Christmas, take your inspiration from Ebenezer Scrooge instead of Bill O'Reilly. Open your wallet.

It's too bad they can't have that nativity scene on the courthouse lawn anymore. It's much worse that there are people eating cat food because they can't afford groceries. Donate to your local food pantry.

It's sad that your kid can't sing "Silent Night" in school anymore. It's sadder that some kids won't find anything under the tree. There are plenty of people collecting toys so poor children can have Christmas, too. Buy a toy or make a donation.

It is kind of silly to call a Christmas tree a holiday tree. It is just plain tragic that children in some parts of the world die of treatable illnesses. Doctors Without Borders does great work. So does UNICEF. Where's your checkbook?

Some of the Fox pundits whoop it up for worthy causes. I hope they're donating part of their large salaries to those same causes, especially at this time of year.

There are some people near their headquarters who aren't going to have a merry Christmas this year because of a storm named Sandy. It would be nice if folks at Fox did something for them.

I am unimpressed by Christmas warriors. They seem all talk. I much prefer those good-hearted souls, who, like Mr. Scrooge and Mr. Dickens, keep Christmas in their hearts all year round. They exemplify the real spirit of the season. They know that, to a real Christian, Christmas isn't about trees or songs or statues, but about God's love made manifest.

God bless them every one.


Jean Martin is a writer living in Swissvale (


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