The spirit of kindness

It's that time of year again. Festive lights - symbols of what's to come and what has been - lift our spirits. It's a time to prepare and to ready our hearts for the season of light and the true meaning of Christmas, the celebration of a baby born into the world more than 2,000 years ago.

Even folks who don't celebrate Christmas can appreciate the beauty of this season of peace and giving.

In a world full of cynicism, mistrust, and tragedy, why not - if only for a day - be truly kind to one another. Maybe a day will turn into a week, a week into a month, a month into a year, and a year into a lifetime.

|Denise Steinert, Clementon,

Tops on the gift list

Dear Santa,

Please bring a budget for Pennsylvania. Many citizens, schools, and nonprofits are experiencing a lot of distress. It seems that after almost six months of arguing, the House, Senate, and governor cannot agree on much of anything. All the money we pay for their salaries and health-care expenses are for what?

Then there's the Justice Department, which is like a circus in Harrisburg. Who knows what to believe?

All of these elected officials only deserve a lump of coal in their stockings. Perhaps, next year they will behave better, but I doubt it.

|JoAnn Williams, Media,

Time for a flu shot

The holiday season has arrived, but so, too, has the flu season. Every year, flu strikes up to

20 percent of the population nationwide, on average, leading to hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations.

Flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. Last season, there were 55,509 cases of flu in Pennsylvania, and 221 people died. It is critical to boost the number of people who are vaccinated and to reduce the number of those infected.

Healthy people often think they don't need the flu vaccine, but many people can develop serious complications from flu, including infants, children, and adults with compromised immune systems, those with chronic conditions such as asthma or heart disease, and anyone older than 65.

Statewide clinics have provided vaccines to 915 adults and children, and more are scheduled, including next month at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

We need everyone immunized to stop the spread of flu and mitigate the chance of vulnerable people contracting this dangerous illness. Visit for more information.

|Karen Murphy, secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Health, Harrisburg

Precautions can prevent a fire

Fire safety is important any time of the year, however the holidays bring with them many family functions that incorporate the use of fire - from preparing holiday meals to curling up beside the fireplace as the night air grows cooler. The holiday season can be a time when there is an increased risk of home fires. Here are some tips:

If you have a fireplace, keep the mantel and area around the hearth clear of debris, decorations, and combustible materials.

When preparing a holiday dinner, keep anything that can catch fire away from the stove.

When using candles, remember that the flame, though small, can be dangerous. Make sure that candles are in a sturdy holder on a flat surface, and never leave candles unattended.

If you have a live tree in your home, make sure to keep it watered, and never use candles to light it. Unplug the lights when you leave the house or go to bed.

For more information, visit

|Robert Cole; president, Fireproof Children Co.; Rochester, N.Y.

Bring home a happy, healthy puppy

This holiday season, many of us will open our homes to a companion animal. But when you buy puppies over the Internet, through newspaper ads, or at pet stores, you are often supporting cruel puppy mills.

Puppy mills are inhumane breeding facilities that churn out millions of puppies each year. The mother dogs are subjected to horrific conditions, including overbreeding, wire cages, little or no veterinary care, poor-quality or insufficient food and water, no protection from the elements, and no socialization or exercise outside of the cage. Such conditions often lead to severe physical and behavioral problems for the mother dogs and their puppies.

This happens while millions of adoptable shelter animals are killed each year; this must stop.

Some compassionate pet store owners have shifted their business practices to the Puppy Friendly Pet Store model, providing shelter pets instead of dogs from puppy mills. Pets Plus Natural, with eight locations in the Philadelphia area, has embraced this model.

If you're looking for your next best friend, do your part to end puppy mill cruelty.

|Steven G. Bazil, Exton,

A reason to be merry

Christmas Day is a national holiday, just like Thanksgiving Day, during which most of us wish each other a "Happy Thanksgiving."

I suggest that our greetings during the Christmas season should be similarly expressed as "Merry Christmas." The greeting, "Happy Holiday," does not capture the significance of the holiday and only adds to its secularization.

Merry Christmas.

|Edwin E. Scully, Philadelphia