The festive holiday spirit is in the air, embracing us. When I visited good friends who celebrate both Jewish and Christian holidays, their children proudly escorted me to their living room.

They showed me the beautiful, tall, decorated Christmas tree and the shiny Hanukkah menorah mounted with candles ready to be lit.Shopping at the supermarket, one instantly recognizes the bright and colorful decorations. Especially lavish is the wine and liquor section, where most of the merchandise is prominently on sale, ready to take home, just for you.

In the popular media, the quantity and content of the everyday commercials has changed dramatically to reflect the frenzy of holiday rush shopping.

As if these all these gifts are only waiting for you to choose, pick and take home.

This long tradition of annual celebration is helpful in maintaining a social and spiritual rhythm. No matter how one feels, or how many disruptions in life, we know that we can always count on the expected timetable: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and finally, the New Year.

These celebrations with family and friends always arrive at the same predictable time.

Having our own family of four generations in one room at the last Thanksgiving convinced me once again of the ancient wisdom of getting together to rejoice in the gifts of life and freedom.

Entangled in the lonely pursuit and struggle of daily life, we all badly need the refueling and regeneration that comes from being together with the people we love.

Yet, in all fairness, there is another side to this holiday cheer.

It's difficult to have a holiday spirit in the poverty and loneliness of the fragmented family.

In the past two weeks, I have met two families.

One is that of an unemployed veteran who at the age of 45 has little chance of being retrained or rehired in our fast-moving, high-tech world. His family is one unemployment check away from homelessness.

The second family is that of a single mother who is working two jobs just to support her family.

When I asked her about her family plans for the holidays, she laughed and said, "Family gathering? Sharing? He doesn't even pay his child support."

And as I was somberly driving home that day, one remote point of holiday light came over the airwaves with the late evening news.

In the starving fields of death in Somalia, American and other global aid is finally arriving to those who have survived so far.

In the midst of the holiday rush and the blare of commercials, some food and possibly even peace will arrive at one remote shore.

For the joy of giving and receiving, an open heart, happy holidays!