This Christmas, possibly more than others before, brings added meaning and a greater appreciation for our families and friends and the unique blessings we share as Americans.

We’re often reminded by our pastors, priests and other spiritual leaders that it is only through the grace of God that we have been born into this nation of rare freedom and opportunity.

Every so often throughout history this realization comes to the forefront of our thoughts. We are indeed blessed far beyond the people of other nations and societies.

We need only to consider the poverty, hunger and suffering among the people of the Middle East, many of whom will face this Christmas cold and without sufficient shelter or food for their families. And, of- course there are similar problems in many parts of the world.

This is a condition some people and cultures have struggled with for generations, it is the only life they have ever known.

Difficult times also extend to some of our fellow Americans, who for various reasons find themselves in financial, physical or emotional need. Still others are struggling through loss, illness or family problems.

Even those who enjoy relative wealth and security are hurting this year due to slowed economy, and concerns over pending political chaos, we are a country divided.

Nevertheless, we can still offer help to the less fortunate. And at a minimum, we can offer others our support through kind words and gestures.

As Americans, we have much to be thankful for this Christmas. What better time, then, to focus on some simple but worthy pursuits that could enrich all of us in the new year and beyond; if only we can achieve them.

These simple goals are to acknowledge that love is more powerful than hate; that forgiveness yields greater rewards than vengeance; and that working toward understanding can help remove that cultural barriers that divide us.