Bah humbug! It's "Messiah" time again. Last night, while Scrooge sat at home, counting his albums of obscure Christmas music, several thousand joyful people came to the Kennedy Center and sang the old favorite along with The Paul Hill Chorale.

Bah humbug? Maybe. True, there are lots of wonderful Christmas works that almost never get heard, while our ears are drowned in "Messiahs." But you might as well "bah humbug" Christmas trees and Santa Claus as Handel's classic. It's in the same category. If you don't believe that, come next year yourself.

You'll find that the Kennedy Center's "Messiah" Sing-Along has become an institution. You'll meet people like Sam Smith, who began coming in 1971, when the sing-along first started in the Concert Hall. Yesterday afternoon Smith came in from Waldorf, Md., at 2:50 to be the first person in the line of non-ticket holders. (On the day the free tickets were given out he was busy playing Santa Claus for an elementary school.)

He and hundreds of other people waited for hours, reading, chatting, playing cards, snacking. Miraculously, everyone did get in and the lucky, like Smith, were right on stage with the singers and the orchestra. They cheered and they applauded--mostly for themselves--and clearly went home filled with good spirits. Bless them all.

And blessings, too, upon conductor Paul Hill, who moved the evening with good-natured humor and businesslike pacing. Cheers to his chorus, who carried the audience along in splendid fashion and to a fine trio of guest conductors. Michael Morgan brought remarkable intensity and vitality, Joel Lazar a welcome precision, and Martin Feinstein a genial touch. Soprano Judith Borden displayed impressive agility, though she needed more discipline in her approach. Ronald Hedlund's rich bass and Manuel Juarez Melendez's polished tenor were noteworthy contributions, and mezzo-soprano Barbara Masters handled her passages capably, if rather timidly. And Handel, as always, scored a triumph.