In a popular American short story, a young couple, poor but very much in love, frets over what to give each other for Christmas. To buy her husband Jim a chain for his proudest possession, a gold pocket watch, Della sells her proudest possession, her long brown hair, to be made into a wig. Jim finds Della a fine pair of hair combs, but he can pay for them only by trading away his watch. When they exchange gifts and realize what they’ve done, their now-useless presents are all the more precious because of the love and sacrifice they represent.
The holiday of Christmas, which millions of Americans and others around the world celebrate today, has inspired many such tales. Some deal with the lessons of generosity and hope, others with the value of friendship, family and faith. Oddly, one of the most famous, "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, is essentially a ghost story. What they have in common is a spirit of redemption and rejoicing that has long touched the human heart.
Tradition is as much a part of the holiday as is its spirit. As in much of the world, millions of Americans will exchange gifts, worship together in their various ways, then gather perhaps with family and friends to complete the celebration over dinner. Many will volunteer to help the homeless, hungry and others in need.
These sentiments transcend nationality, however, and even religion. As the world gets smaller, the Christmas spirit is seen in many places, from Europe to Africa and even Asia.
In Japan, Christmas is known more as a time to spread happiness rather than as a religious celebration. Presents and cards are exchanged, and parties are often held for children, with games and dancing. In Madagascar, an island nation off the east coast of Africa, it's summer at Christmas time. But even though it's hot, many homes are decorated in the spirit of the season with holly and imitation snow, even though none of them exist there.
The message of peace on earth and good will toward men is universal and one that Americans wish to share at this time of year with all citizens of the world.