Sales and values

One would have to be churlish indeed to be less than grateful for the vigorous economic recovery now under way in the United States. The recovery was officially a year old last month, according to Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige. In November, retail sales rose 1.9 percent - the largest monthly gain since May. Current sales, helped by the holiday season, are reported to be ''sparkling.'' If you've fought the long lines at a neighborhood shopping mall recently, or tried to flag the attention of a busy cashier at a crowded downtown department store, that hardly comes as a surprise.

Meanwhile, unemployment continues to drop, down to 8.4 percent in November from 8.8 percent in October. And inflation, although it's still a problem, is sharply down from the double-digit rates of the late 1970s. At many factories, assembly lines are humming.

Yes, there is much to be thankful for in the current economic upswing.

But at the same time, in this final - and for too many of us, frantic - week before the holidays, it might seem abrupt to remind ourselves that material prosperity is not what this season is truly all about.

Are we setting aside time, thinking ahead about our emphasis for these coming days?

The week ahead offers each of us many choices.

Perhaps none are as important, in addition to finding that inner quietness necessary to a consideration of the truer meaning of Christmas, than making room for one's family and friends. Rushing out for a last-minute gift can be an expression of appreciation. But what about a moment or so for a private acknowledgment of friendship? A word of kindness or a smile to a postal worker or sales clerk? Finding time to listen to Handel's ''Messiah'' with the children , or maybe taking them to a performance of the ''Nutcracker''? Letting one's wife or husband, father or mother, colleague or neighbor, know just how much they are loved?

It might seem difficult to find the quietness and mental space to consider what the season's joy and gratitude should embrace, what with all the blare of the marketplace and media.

And yet, such moments can always be found when they are sought, just as the Bethlehem star was found some 20 centuries ago by those who expectantly looked for it.

The week before Christmas . . . still time for choices.

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