For faithful Christians, no other holiday is quite like Christmas. The durable meaning of this day is rooted in the birth of Jesus Christ, and the promised gift of eternal life that springs from that event. But for most of us, and for those of other faiths who have come to celebrate this custom, Christmas comes wrapped with the universal sentiments of love, peace and hope, and the joy of sharing gifts, time and closeness with our dearest family members and friends.
Fortunately for our society, many among us will share this day and these wishes with complete strangers whom they seek to serve in celebration of Christmas' deeper religious meaning. These kind Samaritans will serve meals to the homeless at the Community Kitchen or take gifts to needy families. Others will visit shut-ins, the ill in hospitals, the incapacitated in nursing homes, the lonely and the bereft, bearing gifts and raising spirits with welcome, loving smiles.
Most of us will simply celebrate a joyous day with family and friends. Those with happy young children gleefully plowing through gifts will experience something more. Yet we know the most meaningful sentiment of Christmas is not about receiving gifts, but about giving and sharing the moments and tokens of love and kindness, caring and respect, that bring us hope for a better future.
It is that encompassing spirit, writ first in ancient Yuletide celebrations for the fall's harvest and prayers for the new planting cycle following the Winter Solstice, which fuses the celebration of Christmas with so many people of other faiths. The melding of these universal traditions over eons harken to a common humanity and maker, and the heritage of simpler times.
For Jews, it was the New Year, the Day of Atonement earlier in the fall, and Hanukkah, the holiday of religious freedom, which concluded earlier this month. For Muslims, the seasonal focus is Ramadan, the pillar of Islam, a time of fasting and prayer observed earlier this fall.
The beloved rituals of these three great religions have much in common at their core: the profound essence of faith, the power of prayer and the values of peace and goodwill.
The welcome celebration of Christmas will be tougher for some than others. Too many families are separated by distance and, still, by war. American soldiers remain in Afghanistan, many in the thick of hazardous fighting. Others will be coping with the loss of a loved one, or an uncertain future due to joblessness or serious illness, for themselves or for family members.
Christmas doesn't vanquish such hardships. Which is why this newspaper still conducts the Neediest Cases Fund. The fund seeks contributions, which are tax deductible, to help people whose needs are not met by traditional government services, but which nevertheless can put people out of their homes in an array of crises.
So many people in this country live from paycheck to paycheck, unable to save for an emergency. A health care crisis, crippling disability or loss of a job can quickly lead to foreclosure, homelessness and personal disaster. Our campaign for the Neediest Cases Fund continues until the New Year. If your Christmas is a blessing, you can still share it with the neediest among us.