It’s been called the most wonderful time of the year — the holiday season. In the United States, it begins with Thanksgiving and extends through New Year’s Day.

Thanksgiving, a uniquely American tradition, celebrates the pilgrim’s gratitude for survival, emigration to this continent and appreciation for the help of the Indians who lived here.

Christmas has come to mean many different things, depending on your faith, religion, culture or country. It represents a time of celebration, tradition, gift giving, and gathering with family and friends, and of reflection. We turn our attention to the quality of our personal lives and away from more worldly things — we acknowledge gratitude for our blessings and connect with our desire for a more peaceful world.

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People throughout the world, regardless of their religion, recognize this time of year by observing a variety of traditions, music and meals. Decorated Christmas trees, Santa Claus, elves and reindeer, presents, special meals, decorations (lights, candy canes, Poinsettias, snow & snowmen, candles, bells, wreaths) can be found throughout many countries.

For Christians, this season is about the birth of Jesus Christ, a baby who came to be with us and who changed the world in profound ways. The words of Handel’s beautiful Messiah celebrate his name: Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The holidays are generally a time of connecting, slowing down, and longing for peace in a world that is often fractured and tense. While it is true that much about this season has become commercialized, our desire for connection is in stark contrast to the frenzy of daily life. We long for a simpler existence and meaningful relationships with family and friends.

Each New Year inspires wishes and dreams for new beginnings. For the opportunity of fresh starts, for renewal. For me, the entire season inspires self-reflection, gratitude and appreciation for family and friends.

Whatever your personal beliefs, I wish you blessings, peace and grace during this season of celebration and reflection — what I believe truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth