Today is Christmas Eve. To Christians around the world it is one of the most meaningful days of the year as they celebrate the birth of Christ.

Christmas has an effect on most everyone, giving us an excuse not only for joy and merriment, but also for helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Of course, we shouldn't need an excuse to do that - it should come naturally - but we're human and sometimes we become preoccupied with our own tribulations.

Maybe we need this little divine nudge every December to remind us of our moral obligations.

In the past few weeks we've seen the Courierarea at its best. Look at the activities volunteers are conducting in our communities. Shop With A Firefighter and Christmas With A Cop programs are helping make Christmas happier for dozens of children. Organizations are hosting bazaars to raise money for their giving programs. Churches and organizations hold Christmas parties for the patients at the Madison State Hospital.

The Salvation Army is at the forefront of Christmas giving, as usual, and most area churches are doing their part to ensure that no one will have to endure a bleak, hungry Christmas. The Christmas Angel Tree program this year will put gifts under the tree for hundreds of children. And we know that many individuals are quietly helping those in need, too.

And, it's never too late to contribute. The Salvation Army and other charitable organizations welcome contributions year round.

It's become commonplace for some to complain about the "commercialization" of Christmas, and to say things like, "Oh, I'll be glad when it's over for another year."

Sure, the crowds can be maddening, and some of us forget our manners. But we still believe Christmas brings out the best in those who celebrate it.

As we have in past years, we ask that you remember our men and women in the armed forces who are away from their loved ones this holiday season.

And please offer a special prayer to those who have lost loved ones this year. This time of year can be especially difficult for them.

May we all experience the true spirit that is Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all from The Madison Courier