Let’s celebrate the spirit of Christmas

Published 12:12 am Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Christmas spirit shines like a beacon through a cold winter’s night in Mississippi.

While this year has been difficult for many, we still have much for which to be grateful.

During this Christmas season, families are rushing to finish last-minute shopping and preparations for guests. Amid the bustle, it is important we pause a moment to keep in mind all that we have to be thankful for during this time of year.

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As we enjoy the Christmas festivities with our family and friends, brave men and women in our Armed Forces stand guard halfway around the world, protecting our freedoms and way of life.

This is a difficult time for their loved ones who anxiously wait to be reunited again. More than 2,000 Mississippians are currently deployed overseas, and our prayers are with each of them.

We can sleep in heavenly peace this Christmas because of their service under the harshest of conditions.

Around Mississippi, people are giving their time and talents to show their support for both our current service members and our veterans. At the VA hospitals in Jackson and Memphis, veterans receive visits from members of the community wishing to express their gratitude. Some of those making the trips are veterans themselves, wanting to say thank you to their fellow brothers and sisters in arms.

We must also remember the Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country.

To honor those who gave their lives, a group of volunteers at the Natchez National Cemetery placed wreaths at the headstones of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.

The Natchez project is part of a larger effort to decorate service members’ gravesites around the country.

This year, many of the 24,000 wreaths that dot the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia were laid in Section 60, where many active-duty troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried.

This is a stark reminder of the dangerous mission our brave men and women in uniform face each day while overseas.

Our same troops set a remarkable example not only overseas but here at home too.

In 1947, Major Bill Hendricks, a Marine Reservist, set out to collect and distribute toys to children for Christmas. Picking up on his effort, the following year Marines across the country began carrying on Major Hendricks’ important mission through the Toys for Tots program.

The Marines’ goal is “to deliver, through a new toy at Christmas, a message of hope to less fortunate youngsters that will assist them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens.”

To date, more than 400 million toys have been delivered through the project to 188 million children.

Each of these toys represents the generosity of the American people.

The Marines and volunteers who make Toys for Tots a success offer a tremendous example of service and the Christmas spirit.

To all of you who have used this season to give back to our communities — thank you! Gayle and I wish all Mississippians, whether at home or abroad, a blessed Christmas and a happy new year.

Sen. Roger Wicker is a Republican representing Mississippi in the U.S. Senate.