For all the children who should be loved always, but especially on this wondrous night, with our arms around them and a long good-night kiss on the temple, a kiss more precious than anything wrapped in a box.
For the parents who linger in the doorways of the bedrooms, watching the sleeping shapes. And for all the babies who aren't loved and have been forgotten, growing up with a hard crust around their hearts because someone neglected to plant those kisses and give those hugs.
For every couple that adopts to save a life. For every woman who has given up her child for adoption to save that life. For those who have tried to have children, and are unable. For those who've lost their children and for the children who've lost their moms or dads.
For the crazy uncles who drink too much tonight before they sneak outside to put on the red suit and surprise the kids. And for those wise aunts who make sure the coffee is strong, so the crazy uncles can sober up.
For the men and women of all the choirs of the world, who have been practicing for months in cold, empty churches. Tonight is the night they'll carry us with their harmonies. And for their voices that invite us to humble ourselves, so we may ask for help in scraping away any bitterness that has taken root over the year.
For friends and relatives who don't wait for a special night to build a family. All year they've been building it, with their love and their time. They show up on a Thursday afternoon in May, or a cool morning in September, dropping by just to see if you're OK.
So tonight is for them and tomorrow too, because they are family: by friendship, by blood, by acts of family.
For those who are far away and can't make it home. And others who worry that it is too late. And for those who've become lost and tired and who think there is no return. Remember:
Tonight is the night of new hope.
And the door is always open.
Just reach for it and see.
For the old guys sitting at the end of the bar, nursing their drinks, half-watching the TV, men grateful of warmth and light.
For old women alone awake in their beds, remembering such nights past and the laughter of children, nights when there was so much to do and a houseful of hungry guests to feed.
For parents overwhelmed, out of work or underemployed, with debts pressing down upon them, good people who refuse to let their children see their fear.
And for all those working tonight, and those who must work tomorrow, police, firefighters and paramedics, and their families who wait for them at home.
For everyone in hospitals praying for dignity and relief, and an end without shame or suffering. For physicians who care for them. For the nurse who enters the hospital rooms, and pulls up a chair to listen to a quiet confession.
For the clergy who have struggled with belief, yet find it again and are renewed.
For all sailors at sea tonight who stare out into cold, black water and remember brightly lit rooms.
For the members of the U.S. armed forces who protect us with their bodies and their lives. For the members of the U.S. Foreign Service and for the intelligence services. For their loved ones who wait.
And for those who hold true, and prize liberty over security. For those who keep their faith and refuse to be shamed away from it.
For the children taken by violence in our brutalized cities; Antonio Smith, who was 9, and Ryan Banks before him, who was 12. And Demario Bailey, 15, killed just weeks ago in Chicago trying to protect his twin brother from thugs.
And for our great nation and the American people, who never, ever quit.
To those of you whom I've hurt with pointed and thoughtless words. I'm sorry. And for those of you who give this column a chance four days a week, and send the letters and emails that I share with my wife, Betty. We can't thank you enough.
And for everyone who has kept hold of what is truly important about this night.
It is a message brought to us by that perfect child who came to light the world, that baby born in a manger in Bethlehem so very long ago.
He is the gift.
And it is all about love.
And I hope it comes to you, and comforts you, and remains.
From my wife and our sons and me, from my brothers and their wives and their children, and from Yia-Yia.
From all of us to all of you and yours.