OPINION | GREG HARTON: Wishing Northwest Arkansas a merry Christmas

First things first: Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and yours. And thanks for reading the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette generally and my column specifically.

Writing a column that appears on Christmas Eve or on Christmas itself is, at least to me, always a challenge. Every columnist has to ponder whether to create a column befitting the holiday's observance or stick to the news-driven themes that inspire their columns throughout most of the year.

Rex Nelson and John Brummett today chose the path of Christmas memories, handling their retelling in the skilled and eloquent ways they usually write. Mike Masterson offers a few thoughts on holiday movies with a dose of whether the country is headed for hell in a handbasket. Philip Martin, on the back of this section, poignantly sets remembrances of his sister in a Yuletide context.

Our letter writers bless us with their usual wide-ranging perspectives, for which I'm always thankful. There's a taste of Christmas, but also serious considerations of local matters and beyond, from a highway project in Bentonville to national politics to the ham-handed disposition of a turbulent situation at one of Arkansas largest Baptist congregations.

My temptation is to stick with news developments, largely because there's an ample supply of Christmas-inspired messages already. Thursday's filing of ballot language for a constitutional amendment to expand the state's obligations to provide public education to Arkansas students, a response in part to Gov. Sarah Sanders' LEARNS Act, offers a lot to talk about.

The state's Department of Environmental Quality's request for the Arkansas National Guard to conduct air quality tests near the Tontitown landfill is intriguing, too. Residents near there have complained about sickening odors for years. The agency was encouraged at a November legislative committee hearing to utilize the National Guard's expertise, which one lawmaker described as capable of detecting when a deer "passes gas" in the forest. How can a columnist resist that?

There's lots of news, and thankfully the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and other Arkansas news organizations are still around to report it. Journalism is crucial to this state's future. I remain appreciative of our readers and the news, sports and features coverage this newspaper's reporters and editors deliver every day.

But there's a column to write for Christmas Eve, so I ask myself: Do readers want commentary on news developments on a day in which their hearts and minds are tuned to the meaningful and emotional celebrations of a Savior's birth? Christmas Eve services today will, I hope, deliver those attending to a higher plane, fully grasping the gift upon which Christian faith is built. "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord," the Bible says in Luke 2. "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Christmas is observed by multitudes on a more secular basis, too, with the emphasis on time with family and sharing kindness, generosity and appreciation for our shared humanity. From a childlike perspective, Christmas can unfortunately be entirely about the gifts, but hopefully over time it can be less about "what's in it for me." As Ebenezer Scrooge learned in "A Christmas Carol," as long as we have breath in our lungs, we can turn away from selfish thoughts and recognize that our limited time on Earth is made fulfilling not by stuff, but by relationships.

My hope for all reading this is that these days of Christmas celebration deepen relationships and create opportunities for new ones.

Merry Christmas to all.

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