A pair of high-spirited teenage girls scurried across a busy Manhattan intersection, braving the crowds and frosty weather to hit one more Fifth Avenue shop before closing time. I was a step behind them as they passed a Salvation Army Santa ringing his bell and a traffic cop in earmuffs.

“Merry Christmas!” one of the girls sang out to the policeman, who returned the greeting with a big smile and a wave.

Right away the mood changed.

“How can you say that?” the second girl admonished her friend. “I mean, what if he’s Jewish?'”

“Well, I don’t care, OK? I’m just sick of this ‘Happy holidays’ stuff.”

I wish I’d flagged them down, because there’s something I’d like to have told them very clearly: It’s all right to say Merry Christmas. In fact, it’s lovely.

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