There's going to be a lot of hugging tonight and tomorrow morning. Small figures will spring from waves of ribbons and wrappings to throw their arms around Grandma with a "thank you, thank you, thank you!" Parents will be unexpectedly bussed by grown sons and daughters. Brothers and sisters will laugh aloud at what treasures they have given each other. Friends will be overwhelmed at how perceptively remembrances can be chosen. Yes, someone will say, "How did you know this was just what i needed?"

These occasions of delight may seem like nothing more than cozy, twinkling islands in the Western world's new seas of economic and political uncertainty. But a look elsewhere can remind us that the seas of humanity are wide. That the calms and the currents go and come. That there is a gift waiting for everyone in a broadsened sense of the gratitude which bursts out around the christmas tree.

A friend returns to the West from China, for instance, and reports on the hope and optimism of people in circumstances of austerity all but unimaginable to most Westerners. These Chinese know the harshness of the past and see the possibility of change. They feel a current taking them in a direction where the West has long preceded them.

To come back from China to the West is to be struck anew by how very far the free industrial nations have taken their people. Britain, for all its economic vicissitudes, is caring for an increasingly diverse population whose humblest member has a standard of living to be aspired to by much of the world. In the United States there is a big economic story in the belt-tightening measures required by the problems of a giant auto company. But when the workers talk about sharing sacrifices with management they are talking from a basis of hourlym wage-and-benefit packages, let alone executive salaries, that compare to monthlym income in some less materially favored lands.

his is not to say that relative deprivation in affluent lands is any more acceptable than its equivalent in lands on a whole different scale. But some perspective has to be kept. If the West at the moment seems to be in the doldrums, searching for a new current to take it forward, it is nevertheless afloat at a level unknown to previous history. It can use the present experience to help all those aboard share in the supplies available and in charting a fresh course of progress.

Outlook is important here, along with insight. Both should be served by a mental atmosphere kindled with gratitude for the gifts already received -- rather than dulled by daily counting of the problems remaining.

This is where we recall the man who said that he liked to pray prayers that were always answered. One of them was for a grateful heart, a prayer that begins to be fulfilled in the very praying of it.

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