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col Why Christmas is for kids

WASHINGTON -- There is a reason for Christmas revolving around children, and it is not solely because it celebrates the birth of the Christ child. The holiday spirit of giving finds its fullest expression in the faces of the young ones, those who are trusting enough to believe that their wishes will be fulfilled.

And often they are. A sled, a doll, a game can bring such rapture to a child that everyone else around the tree is lifted into the same sublime state of perfect bliss. That is the magic of this holiday season.

But what of those who have reached the point where they know better than to wish for the impossible? What of the grown-ups who know that life does not always measure up to their dreams?

For us -- and I have been in that category for almost seven decades -- there is a bittersweet character to this time of year. We live in two dimensions -- at least in our thoughts.

At an elevated plane, we know the things that would truly be most meaningful to our lives -- and to our fellow-citizens. Peace in the world and the statesmanship to pursue it; freedom and justice for ourselves and for other peoples; a sense of decency and self-restraint among our public officials and in our press; a rediscovery of the virtues of comity and civility in our communal life.

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We would also be most grateful for a rebirth of genuine patriotism, the kind that acknowledges our debt to the genius of the founding generation and respects the unique edifice of representative government it created -- a patriotism that welcomes the duties of citizenship (such as voting) and its costs (such as taxes) as a small price to pay for the blessings we enjoy.

When we see a world where so many millions are struggling against dire poverty and debilitating disease, we wish for the generosity to do what we can, in this affluent nation, to ease their burdens and help them on the way to a fuller life.

But at our age, we know such grand and glorious gifts will not be given to us on Christmas -- or any other day. These are things we must achieve for ourselves or join with others to seek. In a democracy, we can freely call for such things, but they will come only if we advocate for them and organize for them.

So we ask for humbler gifts. We ask that our friends and family be preserved in health. This has been a year of losses -- of people such as Pat Moynihan and Dick Neustadt, who combined academic life with political life and did both at such a high level that they left us breathless.

It has been a hard year in journalism, with wonderful young reporters such as David Bloom and Michael Kelly and Elizabeth "Buffy" Neuffer losing their lives in Iraq and veterans such as Charlie Seib, Warren Rogers, Bob Thompson and, just last week, Stu Auerbach taken by illness.

For some of us, it has also been a year of separations. The Washington Post offered longtime employees a buyout, a good and generous thing for those involved. But while readers will miss bylines and the insights these reporters offered, those of us who remain are losing lunchtime companions and colleagues we have come not only to count on but to love -- people such as Ed Walsh and Dan Morgan and Helen Dewar and John Berry and Peter Behr and Bob Levey and too many others.

I cannot imagine walking into the newsroom in the morning without having Peter Harris, the foreign desk manager, sitting there, ready to discuss last night's ball games or the latest news from overseas.

So I am increasingly averse to change. I like almost all the new reporters and some of the new politicians. But there is really only one new thing I covet: A baseball team for Washington. It seems absurd we are without one, yet again, for the coming season, and for no good reason other than the belligerence of the owner in Baltimore and the cowardice of the men who run baseball.

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Last season was a time of excitement and ultimately despond for those of us who grew up as, and remain, Cubs fans. But it captivated us as completely as if we were children awaiting Christmas. Few things in adult life do that, and I want my grandchildren -- who will soon enough enter the Age of Disappointment -- to know the sweet rapture of having a home team.

It has to happen soon.

David Broder is a columnist for the Washington Post. His e-mail address is davidbroder@washpost.com.

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