This column is a pre-emptive strike. But first ... my disclosure statement. I love Christmas. I love the holiday. I love the spirit of the season. I love the Nativity story. I love the sweep of tradition. I love the church services. I love the meaning and reason for the season. I love Christmas. Having said that ... It makes me absolutely crazy when every year, (certainly for the past ten years or so), somebody ... anybody ... kicks off the Christmas season with the now traditional, \u201cThey\u2019re stealing Christmas ...\u201d \u201cThey\u201d are usually some mythical liberals somewhere wishing someone a \u201cHappy Holidays\u201d rather than a \u201cMerry Christmas.\u201d Sigh. The \u201cstealing Christmas\u201d fire is usually a stoked by guys like Bill O\u2019Reilly who has pretty much made a career out of getting folks in a panic over someone or the some group who is \u201cstealing Christmas.\u201d Every year, O\u2019Reilly and others of his ilk search the wire services and news networks with a fine-toothed comb hungrily seeking out the off-the-wall story about some clerk at a Home Depot in Boise or a cashier in Portland who wished a customer \u201cHappy Holidays\u201d rather that the more orthodox greetings acceptable to the purists. Then, when an example or two are found, O\u2019Reilly and his followers spend the rest of the Season of Good Cheer in a state of hateful funk. Every year, same story. Last year, they managed to convince an elderly friend of ours that someone was stealing Christmas \u2014 probably the Kenyan Moslem dude now living in the White House. At one stage she wished us a \u201cMerry Christmas\u201d and I responded with real love and sincere affection, \u201cHave a great holiday season.\u201d She nearly spit! \u201cYou say \u2018Merry Christmas\u2019 or nothing at all,\u201d she said with indignant anger, So, I recanted my blessing ... and said nothing at all. Look. You can take my best wishes in the spirit in which they are offered, or I suppose you can read something sinister into them. It\u2019s up to you. Not me. But ... back to the topic at hand. Stealing Christmas. Anyone getting geared up for the annual \u201cThey\u2019re stealing Christmas\u201d fest had better take a look around. At least three stores I\u2019ve been in lately \u2014 last weekend, actually \u2014 already have Christmas displays up and holiday carols playing in the aisles! Yessir. It isn\u2019t even Halloween time yet, and at least a few stores I visited Saturday \u2014 Costco, Menards, and Kohls \u2014 have already got Christmas decorations prominently displayed and in the Menards in Mt. Pleasant, you can hear cheery Christmas carols in the aisles. Seriously!!??!! C\u2019mon folks. I understand people in retail feel a need to get a jump on holiday sales, but didn\u2019t that head-start used to begin just after Thanksgiving?? Hey! The leaves are just now turning color. We\u2019ve had a few pretty frosty evenings. I\u2019ve needed to cover some plants. But heck, they\u2019ve barely started harvesting pumpkins! There are still guys out cutting hay, and Christmas displays are up in some retail stores throughout the area \u2014 and even more so down in Grand Rapids. It\u2019s ridiculous. Frankly, I think it is THESE folks \u2014 the Christmas in September people \u2014 who are sapping the Spirit of Christmas from the holiday season. NOT the folks who say \u201cHappy Holidays\u201d instead of \u201cMerry Christmas.\u201d I mean, let\u2019s be honest here. I love the glitz and glitter of the Christmas holiday just as much, if not more than most folks. Love it. Look. I start letting my beard grow out at this time of year so kids will think I\u2019m Santa. (I don\u2019t need to worry about the \u201cbowl full of jelly\u201d belly. That kinda takes care of itself!) I love the holiday. I love Christmas. But I need to ask all you \u201cThey\u2019re stealing Christmas\u201d people a question: Don\u2019t you think Christmas displays in the middle of September somewhat diminish the Spirit of the Holiday? I actually find them a little annoying, and somewhat depressing. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I enjoy the flow of the seasons highlighted by seasonal holidays. I enjoy the crisp autumn evenings with colorful falling leaves festooning the highways and byways of our beautiful part of the state. I enjoy the excitement of kids getting decked out in their Halloween finest to \u201cTrick and Treat\u201d their way through neighborhoods gaily decorated with pumpkins and cornstalks. I love the Thanksgiving season \u2014 a time of giving thanks for the good Lord\u2019s bounteous gifts. I love slipping slowly and ever so peacefully into the Christmas and Chanukah season \u2014 with the wonderful messages of creation and fulfillment. I love the holidays. But I hate being mugged into celebrating out of season. I hate being mugged into listening to an interminable loop of The Little Drummer Boy \u2014 IN SEPTEMBER! Stealing Christmas! Not likely, and not hardly. Not the way the retailers are setting up already.