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 all the parents who linger in the doorways of the bedrooms, watching the sleeping shapes.
For all the babies who aren't loved and have been forgotten, and who may grow up with a hard crust around their hearts because someone didn't plant those kisses and give those hugs.
For every couple who adopts a child to save a life. For every young woman who has given up her child for adoption to save a life. For all those couples who have tried to have children but are unable. For those who've lost their children. For the children who've lost their moms and dads.
And for all the crazy uncles who will drink too much tonight, and dance and tell their wacky jokes before sneaking outside to put on the red suit in the cold, then sneaking back to surprise the kids.
For those wise aunts who make sure that the coffee is strong, so the crazy uncles sober up.
For the men and women of all the choirs in the world. They've been practicing for months now, gathering on weeknights in empty churches. And tonight is the night they've been working toward, the night they 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 the friends and relatives, uncles and aunts and cousins and grandparents and neighbors, the people who don't wait for a special night to begin building a family.
All year they've been building it, with their concern and their love and their time. They show up on a Thursday afternoon in June, or on some cool morning in November. They drop 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 the acts of family.
For those who are physically far away and can't make it home this year. And for those who've been distant other ways, and worry now that it's too late. They fear they locked the door behind them when they left, and now they wonder if there is any way back inside the house.
But tonight is the night of new hope.
And the door is always open.
Just reach for it, and see.
And for the old guys at the end of the bar, nursing drinks, fingering their packs of smokes, half watching the TV, men grateful of a warm place and the sound of laughter.
For the old women alone in their rooms tonight, awake in bed, remembering these nights past and the laughter of children, on nights that weren't so terribly still, when there was so much to do and a houseful of guests to feed.
For young parents who are stressed and overwhelmed. And for older moms and dads who are overworked, or out of work or underemployed, with pressure and those college bills pressing down on them, good people who refuse to let their children see fear.
And for those who get that call from the doctor, and feel bad news coming before they hear the words.
For everyone on the night shift tonight, and those who have to work tomorrow, police and firefighters and paramedics, store managers, servers, reporters, everyone. And for their families, waiting for them to come home.
For everyone in hospitals praying for dignity and relief, and an end without shame or suffering. For the physicians who care. For the nurses who'll enter the rooms tonight, and pull up chairs, listening to quiet confessions.
For the clergy, including those who have struggled with belief yet find it again and are renewed.
And for every sailor at sea, especially those on watch on the bridge, staring into cold black water, remembering brightly lit rooms.
For the members of the U.S. armed forces who protect us with their bodies and their lives. And for members of the U.S. Foreign Service and intelligence services who risk themselves for us. For their loved ones, who wait.
And for those Americans who died in Benghazi. For the children and adults killed at the Sandy Hook school and their families.
For our great nation, and our people who never, ever quit.
To those of you whom I've hurt with my stupid and thoughtless words on my bad and strident days, I'm sorry. And to those who give this column a chance and visit with me in the mornings and send me letters and email I share with my wife. Betty and I can't thank you enough. But thanks again.
And for everyone who keeps hold of what is important about this night: It is that message brought to us by the child who came to light the world, that perfect child born in that 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 Betty and me and the boys, from my brothers and their wives, from Yia-Yia and her seven grandchildren, from all of us to all of you and yours.