Happy -- achoo! -- holidays

Dear friends:

I’d like to thank all of you who recently shared your germs and viruses with me. Nothing says "special friendship" like a dripping nose.

Thanksgiving weekend marks the traditional start of the annual holiday blitz of shopping and parties and cockles-warming. 'Tis the season when we work-at-home types actually leave the house and interact with other humans, and we can count on contracting miserable illnesses while we're out there.

(The word "holidays" comes from the Greek holidakos, which translates to "cold and flu season." People have known since ancient times that holiday gatherings were the best places to pick up rampaging colds.)

Home-office workers are extra-susceptible to these viral onslaughts. We’re not out there in the workaday world, regularly exposed to the latest bugs, so our immunity is suppressed. Viruses take one look at our pasty indoor faces and virgin nasal passages, and you can almost hear their evil little laughs: Heh-heh-heh.

Then, whammo, they attack.

We victims are like small children who haven’t yet been exposed to the world’s germs and viruses. This is why smart parents urge their offspring to roll in the dirt and make mud pies and lick the dog. Children need to collect all the resulting immunities. We adults lose our accumulated immunities if we never go out in the world and get a booster shot of germs.

(When I was growing up in the South, we called such people “shut-ins.” They were too elderly and/or infirm to leave their homes, and they always rated a special place in prayers. I remember, as a child, being very curious about the shut-ins. I couldn’t understand why people didn’t just go to the shut-ins' homes and let them out. Why were they locked up anyway? I was an odd child.)

Most of the year, we shut-ins get our viruses directly from our own children. Every weekday, the kids go to school, where viruses hang out in the hallways like juvenile delinquents, picking their teeth and waiting for a ride. Our children embrace these miscreants and bring them home, where they run amok among the household adults.

Here’s the unfair part: The kids barely get sick, but we parents will be laid low. My teen-age son brings home some dread disease, and he’ll have the sniffles for a day or two, maybe sleep an extra hour, and he’s fine. The same virus hits my puny immune system, and I’m groaning in a bed for a week.

This time of year, though, we hermits acquire our viruses first-hand. We go to holiday parties and family gatherings, and we shake hands and kiss cheeks and dole out big hugs. During these moments of unguarded human contact, the viruses leap over onto us and sprint right up our noses.

If you’re like me, you’ll recover from your Thanksgiving cold just in time to pick up a fresh batch of viruses at Christmas. Colds and flu truly are the "gifts that keep on giving."

So thanks again, friends, for sharing with me. I hope to recover in time to see you at the New Year’s party.

You might want to skip that midnight kiss.