In this joyous holiday season we engage in special rituals. We decorate a tree with pretty ornaments and strings of lights. We make eggnog. We put the yule log on the fire. We pass around beautifully wrapped gifts, and listen closely to make sure they are not emitting the kind of ticking sound associated with explosives. We search the closets and under the bed for hidden agents of Osama bin Laden. We make sure we have plenty of spare ammo. We lock and load.

This is the most nerve-racking holiday season in a long time. The FAA wants airline passengers to be prepared for additional security scrutiny and to "be alert for any suspicious, unattended bags, parcels or other items." (I've found that staring at people for long periods and wondering if they might secretly be a terrorist contributes to a more relaxing aviation experience.)

Meanwhile, the State Department says Americans around the world should be prepared to be targeted by terrorists at special millennial events. A State Department official, Michael Sheehan, has tried to explain the competing goals of the government in these delicate times: "One is to share information we have regarding threats in a prudent manner, and the other is not to be overly alarmist so as to unnecessarily frighten the American people."

In other words, people should just be a little bit worried that they'll be killed by a terrorist.

All this jitteriness comes on top of the Y2K bug, which, even if it doesn't trigger blackouts or cause planes to fall from the sky, has already inspired countless people to hunker down with huge barrels of dried beans, a five-year supply of Spam and a massive arsenal of firearms. You definitely want to knock first these days when you visit a friend.

What's the cure for all this anxiety? Here's a suggestion: Go to Canada. It is the land of no worries. Canada is so even-keel, so open-minded, so desperately intent on being as boring as possible, that no Canadian dares to imagine that there is such a thing as a bad person. In Canada, everyone is presumed nice. That's why terrorists love the place!

It appears that terrorists in Canada now outnumber the hockey players. As we speak, the terrorists are standing in line, doing their last-minute Christmas shopping at Plastic Explosives R Us. There are homeless terrorists on the streets carrying little signs saying "Will Drive Truck Bomb for Food."

As Americans we need to get serious about the Canada problem. Personally I have never trusted that place. It comes on so mild, so easygoing. It tries to lull everyone into complacency. It keeps sending us these supernaturally calm and levelheaded people like Peter Jennings, who could make Armageddon no more dramatic than a quarter-point increase in the prime lending rate.

Over time we've let down our guard. We're talking about 3,000 miles-plus of virtually unguarded border, a massive sieve. Incredibly, there are border crossings guarded only by a video camera. Our national defense is a Camcorder!

This might be a good time to start considering the annexation solution. Does Canada really need to be an entirely separate nation? We need to make clear to these people that we can take them. They need to realize that we're really on edge, and if someone accidentally pops a champagne cork when we're not expecting it, we may accidentally order an invasion.

All right. Enough of the prattle. Here's a more serious idea: Instead of doing last-minute Christmas shopping, let's do some last-minute charity.

Instead of thinking of hate, let us think about love.

Instead of fear, let us feel courage. Instead of despair, let us have faith.

This is the time of year when we can all engage in sudden and unexpected acts of kindness. You could say this is a form of counterterrorism. This is a moment for everyone to pause and think about what they can do for those who are less fortunate, who are in pain, who are suffering a deficit of hope. You can visit a person in the hospital or a hospice, or write a letter to someone you haven't seen in many years. You can bring food to a homeless person. You can vow to nurture the weak. You can call someone out of the blue and wish him a Merry Christmas.

Yes, there are bad people in the world.

But there are a lot more of us than there are of them.

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