Before I get started, allow me to preface this column by saying ... Merry Christmas to all my Christian friends. Happy Chanukah to all my Jewish friends. A joyous and meaningful Eid to my Muslim friends. And a hearty Good Luck to all my atheist friends. Whatever your holiday may or may not be at or near this time of year, I offer my best wishes for a season of cheer, compassion, and peace. I'm done with the "War On Christmas" stuff. I'm not going to let the paranoid fear-mongers ruin my holiday season. Now then ... here we are ... full in the Christmas holiday season. It's Christmas time. I love this time of year. I am not going to pontificate on how crass and commercial we've become - although I really do think we, as Americans, have taken things to excess as we seem to do with most everything we lay our hands to. The fact of life is I enjoy the trappings of Christmas. I enjoy the lights and the tinsel. In enjoy the sights and sound. I enjoy the general brouhaha. I love it. I loved it as a kid. I loved it while living in Israel I love all the fluff and fancy still. But there is a danger in all this "stuff" that surrounds the Christmas holiday season. I think we lose a balanced sense of proportion. It's obvious that in the hubbub, we miss out on what I think are some important points - the message within the "old, old story." I believe the Christmas story is a lesson in the joy of silence. Thomas Merton, one of my literary and philisophical heroes wrote: "It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them.... Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say." Silence. What does the Christmas story teach us about being quiet? About making time even and especially at this season to simply be quiet? The REAL heroes and heroines in the Christmas story were people who kept their heads about them and moved through their world - and ours - in calm, in peace, and with a sense of tranquility all in the face of tremendous uproar. Christmas teaches us there's a really beneficial quality to not always blabbering everything that pops into your noggin - to being quiet for a few moments. The silence of strength. The silence of virtue. The silence of rectitude - that inner fortitude so lacking in our modern world. Consider Mary ... What a heroic young lady. She must have put up with so much. She wanders through this story in peace and calm and humility. And what a story. If you really look at the Nativity story carefully, and if you read it realistically leaving out the "Silent Night" traditions, and the "Oh Little Town of Bethemlem" stuff this is a incredibly noisy story. There is noise and blare surrounding Mary every waking hour ... First, imagine the castigation of her family ... and his ... and the neighbors ... Then, just as she goes into labor, (in a barn!), there are angels swirling about praising God and scaring the wits out of a group of shepherds. This girl barely gives birth and manages to get her baby settled down when these same shepherds come strolling through the barn saying: "Where's the baby. We wanna see the baby." It's incredible. It's frantic. Doors opening and shutting. People exchanging stories talking about the angels. Guys trying to outdo each other with their tales. What a mess. Read the story for yourselves. It's noisy. With all of this going on ... Mary maintained a meditative calm. She "... treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart." Can we be quiet and really learn to treasure the important things in our lives at this season? We should. Merton in one of his works wrote: "Try to be quiet whenever possible. And it's always possible." With all the mess and muddle; with the chaos and confusion; with the traveling here and hurrying there; with all the "Did we remember to get something for ... whoever"; with all of this ... Do we remember that this is inherently a Season of Silence. A time to tuck away all things - as did Mary - in silence. A time to do what needs to be done - not what the world says needs to be done, but what REALLY needs to be done. A time to do the right thing - in silence. A time to learn to be quiet and calm. Because that is the Spirit of Christmas - a spirit of calm, a spirit of stillness, a spirit of peacefulness. That is what this season is all about. Mary knew it.