By Inez Castor

Merry Christmas! And as long as we're celebrating, let's not forget Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, Santa Lucia's Day, Advent and Boxing Day.

Now there's a goodie! On Boxing Day, a British holiday celebrated on the first business day after Christmas, people give gifts to all who serve them, including mail carriers, paperboys and delivery people.

Celebrating the return of Light is universal, not unique to one culture alone. Most holidays this time of year revolve around light, involving a miracle, a birth or a return, and I celebrate them all. I love poinsettias and menorahs, andquot;The Little Drummer Boyandquot; and andquot;The Messiah,andquot; Christmas cacti, dreidels and fudge.

It's that special time of year when optimism runs rampant, and everyone believes in something. Serious people begin to hum while they work, smile at strangers, and hold doors for each other. The excitement builds when school closes for winter break, and by now otherwise sane people are bursting into song.

Christmas is here to stay

In case you think commercialization has ruined the holidays, don't worry about it. Nothing can spoil the beauty of this season. In the 17th Century, Puritans tried to ban Christmas festivities in England, saying it was a pagan holiday. An Act of Parliament banned feasting and merrymaking on Christmas Day, and even church was forbidden. When they came to America, they tried to substitute Thanksgiving for Christmas, but all their efforts failed, and our love of traditional celebrations is probably to blame.

Humans love any excuse for gathering together with food, song and fellowship, and the lengthening of winter days is one of the great reasons to celebrate. Psychologically, we need a boost this time of year; it gives us the momentum we need to coast through to spring. And while children may dream of toys, gardeners dream of spring, when the soil gets warm and the days get long.

After all, the seed catalogs are arriving, bringing tidings of comfort and joy. Christmas cards are nice, but seed catalogs encourage the exhausted, soothe the harried, and nourish the soul.

Don't sweat it

If suddenly the music seems too loud, the house too warm, and everyone's talking at once, sneak off for a few quiet moments with your favorite seed catalog. It sounds difficult, but it can be done if you use andquot;the mommy gambit.andquot; Lock yourself in the bathroom.

This can be a stressful time, so get plenty of rest, eat lots of oranges, and don't sweat the small stuff. The world won't end if you didn't make that last batch of cookies or that last phone call.

Get outside for at least a few minutes in order to appreciate fresh air, the order of the changing seasons, and the freedom to celebrate your life. Are you sleeping indoors and eating regularly? If so, you've got something to celebrate.

Most important, maintain an attitude of peace and gratitude. There's something about gratitude that creates a space in your life for more good to flow in. And andquot;Peace on Earthandquot; begins with us.

Reach Inez Castor, a long-time Triplicate columnist, at