Christmas means many things to different people.
To many, it is a time to gather with friends and family in celebration of the birth of Christ, of the festiveness of the season or both. Of course, these messages may be obscured by the avalanche of advertisements urging people to shop. And that may not be seen as a bad thing when you can get 20 percent, 30 percent or even 50 percent off that hot electronic item that will cool off when the product becomes obsolete, usually in a week or two.
To those serving in Afghanistan and still a part of the Iraq occupation, this is a Christmas away from their families -- perhaps only the latest of several. On the home front, those families fret for the safety of their sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, husbands and wives. In turn, these brave Americans are using hot new technology to keep in touch by video and telephone. The soldier's arsenal now includes Skype.
To retailers, it means a potential boost to the bottom line. That also pleases politicians, who have to face disgruntled voters who seem, somehow, to lack the traditional seasonal goodwill toward their elected officials. More sales, more tax collected. Everybody wins.
The holidays encompass joy but they also offer some pain.
The nation still faces high unemployment, questions of recovery and an uncertain future with trillions of dollars in debt -- much of it owed to the Chinese. President Obama has recently cut a tax deal with Republicans that makes left-wing liberals cringe but does extend unemployment benefits. But what it doesn't do is prevent wide-scale criticism for the president, who essentially ran on a promise some feel he didn't keep.
Nonetheless, Americans are being visited by something like a Charles Dickens triumvirate of ghosts. There's the Ghost of the Great Recession, replacing the Ghost of Christmas Past. The Ghost of the Great Recession has caused many Americans to lower their personal debt consumption, using cash instead of credit and putting off large purchases.
The Ghost of Christmas Present has been replaced by the Ghost of Christmas Sanity when it comes to the new world order of retail. Outfits such as Amazon.com and Best Buy have adjusted to the new world order by cutting down on shipping and restocking fees.
The Ghost of Christmas Future hearkens back to the experience of children whose parents survived the Great Depression. Like those children, today's may respond to their parents' stresses by vowing never to extend their pocketbooks in the same manner.
But while Christmastime holds different meanings for different people, it offers to all of us the gift of hope. That's the overarching quality of this day, whether it is hope for the redemption of mankind or just for a better tomorrow. Things can get better. Here's hoping.
Happy holidays, seasons greetings, merry Christmas!