The Christmas decorations came out early this year, weeks before Thanksgiving, and for the first time in a long time there was no need to complain. This has been a long year and a tough decade for most Americans. There is insecurity abroad and at home. Two wars, a recalcitrant economy and a partisan divide on health care have contributed to Americans' anxiety.
Thank goodness, then, for Christmas. It's arrival is predictable, but no less welcome. While some of our troops overseas may soon be coming home, unemployment is up in Tampa Bay, credit is still tight and the rancor in Washington has only gotten worse. There is little expectation that the next decade will be any easier.
But Christmas offers a temporary break from that. Amid confection, lights, friends, family and ritual, there is a chance to put our lives in perspective. To dwell upon the warmth of the season and delight in the rituals that shape it, both religious and secular — the tree, cards, carols, hot chocolate and midnight Mass, the drive to grandmother's and the packed flight home.
But for all its traditions, this Christmas reflects the times. Shoppers have cut back their lists this year and bought more basics. And while America's landfills will still groan this weekend, the nation's mood is refreshingly more practical. Americans are still giving time and money to the needy. Volunteering has stayed remarkably consistent throughout the recession. If this Christmas is a welcome break, it also is a snapshot of a nation pulling together.
Perhaps the Gallup poll this month that found Americans' emotional health had rebounded to prerecession levels is not all that surprising. This sense of optimism has carried the nation through many Christmases. It reflects the power of fraternity among humankind.
The Christmas spirit, much-needed this year, is the same as the first Christmas as told by Luke: On Earth peace, good will towards men. It is that enduring message we celebrate. Merry Christmas.