I always assumed they were meant to convey the entirety of the season - from Thanksgiving forward to Christmas through New Year's and the festive air that accompanies this special time of year. But these days we've got to read something sinister into them, while demanding the commercialization of Christmas - something religious folks once bemoaned.
Such a belligerent attitude seems out of character with the season - its supposed peace, charity and good will - but then so does elbowing somebody out of the way to get the last available whatever.
When you're looking for something to get mad about, you'll find it, and if not, you can just imagine it. The more outlandish your imagination, the better.
That was the case last week when rumors were rampant that the colors red and green had been banned at an elementary school in Seminole County, Fla., in the month of December because they're associated with Christmas. You can't get much more far-fetched than that.
But of course, people were willing to believe it and spread the rumor without asking somebody who might know - like the school system. And certain cable news outlets and other media were only too willing to report it as fact because it fit into a preconceived narrative.
It was a completely false rumor, and when the school system said so, it probably was disappointing to some folks who had worked themselves up to a fever pitch and were suddenly deprived of a target for their outrage.
A few years ago, Ann Coulter wrote in her nationally syndicated column, which at the time appeared regularly in the Daily Journal, that Tupelo school system administrators had "methodically purged all Christmas carols of any religious content - and then led the children in a chant of: 'Celebrate Kwanzaa!' " She was quoting a book by David Limbaugh, brother of Rush. It was completely untrue.
I knew firsthand that the claim was false because I'd just been to a choral concert at my children's school in which lots of Christmas carols were sung, including the overtly religious variety. But even without that experience, common sense would tell you that it was nonsense, that such a policy would never have been implemented in Tupelo, Miss.
The Daily Journal contacted Limbaugh, who acknowledged the error - he had confused Tupelo with a school system in Pennsylvania - and graciously apologized to the community through a letter to the editor in this newspaper. We brought the error and Limbaugh's apology to the attention of Coulter's editor. The columnist never ran a correction. Presumably truth and accuracy weren't high priorities for her in fighting the culture wars.
We've got enough unpleasantness around us the rest of the year to insist that we carry it into the Christmas season. Might it be possible to declare a truce in the culture wars just for a few short weeks?
The first Christmas card I received this year came from a conservative Christian friend from Mississippi now living in Texas. It said, quoting an anonymous author:
"This Christmas: Mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Write a love letter. Share some treasure. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Keep a promise. Find the time. Forgive an enemy. Apologize if you were wrong. Think first of someone else. Be kind and gentle. Laugh a little. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love. Speak it again. Speak it still once again."
Good advice. It even sounds a little like some of the things that baby in the manger grew up to say.
And nothing in there about looking for something or somebody to get mad about. Imagine that - peace and good will at Christmas. That's a rumor worth spreading.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or email@example.com.