As we approach the most joyous and for many of us the most sacred time of the year, our thoughts naturally turn to our loved ones, our friends, our colleagues.
We wish each other a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays according to our custom and almost instinctively say, write or sing "Peace on Earth, good will to men."
But what do we say to our troops, our men and women who once again, for a ninth Christmas in a row, will be spending the holidays in foreign battlefields where peace on earth and good will to men are just cruel incongruities?
What do we say to them since -- just as during the past eight Christmases -- our nation continues to be at war and there will be little joy and certainly little or no peace for the tens of thousands of our heroes who will be spending yet another Christmas in harm's way, far from home, far from their loved ones.
And what do we say to their loved ones, the fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, husbands or wives who will spend yet another lonely Christmas remembering, praying, crying?
Sure, this holiday season will once again evoke many eloquent and touching words, well-meant words that express our most sincere admiration, gratitude, sorrow and well wishes for our troops.
But what do we say that is genuinely new -- that has not already "been said many times, many ways"?
It is not as if we haven't had the time to think about what to tell our troops this holiday season.
In my case, the sacrifices made by our troops in Afghanistan and in Iraq have weighed heavily on my heart and have been foremost in my mind throughout the year and especially during the last eight Christmases.
From the warmth, comfort and safety of my home, I have tried every year to say or write a few words of love, gratitude and encouragement to our troops. I have also said a little prayer now and then.
Last Christmas, in addition to wishing our troops in harm's way as Merry a Christmas as possible, I also wished them "a safe and speedy return home, to their loved ones, so they will be able to celebrate every Christmas henceforth as they celebrate this one in their thoughts, in their dreams and in their prayers."
Sadly, it appears that for so many that wish will have to be put on hold for yet another year.
Regardless of how sincere and imaginative one is, there are only so many ways to express one's feelings towards our fighting men and women this time of the year.
Perhaps on this ninth Christmas as we run out of fresh, adequate words to express our gratitude and our best wishes to our heroes we may be forgiven for borrowing from that classic Christmas Song and, paraphrasing a little bit, say:
And so we're offering this simple phrase,
To our heroes from Baghdad to Kandahar,
Although it's been said many times, many ways,
A very Merry Christmas to you from afar.
And to their loved ones back home, I hope from the bottom of my heart that next Christmas we will not have to hunt for appropriate words to express our Christmas wishes to them, but that having their father, mother, son or daughter, husband or wife back safely and lovingly in their midst will say it all.
I hope that -- as the next next Christmas approaches -- our brave men and women serving our country in some remote and dangerous outpost on Christmas Eve will be able to loudly and joyously sing the hauntingly beautiful words from yet another classic Christmas song, "I'll be home for Christmas," but that such a joy will finally not be "only in [their] dreams."
Photo: Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense: Soldiers pray during a candlelight prayer service in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, in celebration of Christmas.