AUSTIN, Texas -- And a Merry Christmas to all, including people who have white Christmas trees decorated entirely with purple balls. Merry Christmas to the Red states and the Blue states, to the R's and D's, and to all the troops stationed in Afghanistan, including the French troops there -- Mais oui, Chwistmas, y'all.

            Merry Christmas to all the people who had to eat bugs on reality shows this year and to all the professional athletes who have not gotten into duke-outs (lumps of coal to the rest of you jocks). Merry Christmas to the homeless and the people in the shelters, and especially to those who are feeding the people in the shelters. Season's Best to all the cops who collected for Blue Santa this year, and a Tiny Tim Salute to all the prisoners, including Martha Stewart. Her cell-wing lost the prison's Christmas decorating contest this year -- when it rains ...

            Here's to all the Americans on both sides of this year's unusually peppy fights over the allowability of religious symbols on public property. This annual battle, in which the American Civil Liberties Union strives once more to make itself as popular as the Grinch, is over the part of the First Amendment that says the government cannot sponsor religion. I always liked what former Gov. Ann Richards said when informed there were demands that the large star on top of the state capitol come down. "Oh, I'd hate to see that happen," she drawled. "This could be the only chance we'll ever have to get three wise men in that building."

             Feliz Navidad to all our immigrants, legal and otherwise -- may La Migra be far away and tamales close at hand. By the way, there are some new legal rights groups that will go after the scum who hire you and then refuse to pay you. Joyeux Noel to all our friends in Canada, and please overlook the pifflebrains who keep insulting you.

             Merry Christmas to Tonya Harding and to Nancy Kerrigan, to the Red Sox and to the Cards, and possibly even to George Steinbrenner. Here's to the Texas Legislature, about to convene once more, depriving many a village of its idiot. Here's to John Ashcroft, how we'll miss him -- he was so sexy. A Cool Yule to all the jazzmen and their fans. And wishing a warm holiday to all the citizens with rings in their noses who find going out in subzero weather such a trial. And to those with tattoos, whatthehell.

             Happy holidays to the sailors and ballroom dancers, the birders and the bingo players, the squaredancers, the folklorists, the scrapbook makers, the railroad buffs and everyone else with a harmless passion -- we appreciate you all. Here's to the carolers and the altar guild, the vestrymen (vestrypersons?) and the Santas, and to all who volunteer. Here's to everyone who suffered in the Florida hurricanes, including the claims adjusters -- may your days be merry and bright.

             Festive greetings to the circus folk and the airline attendants trying to get all the Christmas presents into the overhead bin. Here's to all the proud new grandmas and grandpas, and of course, the aunts. Here's to everyone in the emergency room on Christmas Eve: It could be worse -- you could be Martha Stewart.

             A joyous time to all the cooks, making everything from roast goose to turnip fluff, and especially to all the kitchen staffs of all the restaurants that are open on Christmas Day. Here's to everyone who got divorced this year and deserves a break -- may you even part with a kind thought for your ex.

            A special holiday wish for all the Americans in Iraq and all the Iraqis, too -- peace on earth. Here's to those who are grieving -- isn't "loved one" a horrid expression? -- whether it is Joe or Tammy, or even Athena the perfect poodle we mourn.

            May Baby Jesus' birthday be mellow for the tense, including the lady who said she shrieked both over having dinner with me and how the toilet flushed on the recent Nation cruise. Me and the toilet -- I'm so honored.

             Here's to all the racetrack players and cabbies and guys who stop to help fix flat tires. Here's to all the non-Christians, may this day be special for you, as well. To all my brethren and sistren in the newspaper biz, even the editors, and to all the weathermen who report the unidentified flying object on Christmas Eve. Here's to everyone who sent a fruitcake and got one back. Here's to all the salespeople in all the stores who actually made it through without losing it this year, especially in the lingerie departments, where I used to work during the holidays.

             And here's to all the rest of us, imperfect though we are. One thing I have learned over the years is that you should go ahead and eat the fudge, because the diet starts next year. And to all, a good night.

            To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.