Key Points:

Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men. The familiar Christmas exhortation speaks more profoundly than any argument. To live in peace is the ultimate purpose of most human effort. Peace means safety, security, sufficiency, comfort, pleasure and fulfilment in the company and service of others. And goodwill is the secret to its achievement.

Goodwill - the willingness not just to wish the best for everyone but to assume the best of everyone - is the particular blessing of Christmas. It is the season when rivalries and antagonisms recede in good cheer and it is possible to recognise the things we share.

Politicians, who make an art of rivalry and antagonism, know better than most of us how much we have in common. One of the unexpected consequences of MMP has been to distinguish mainstream parties from the fringe, so much so that whenever National and Labour address a business audience these days somebody in the audience will ask why we cannot have them both, in grand coalition.

The reason we cannot, as Michael Cullen hinted to the Herald's "Mood of the Boardroom" breakfast during the election campaign, is merely strategic. A grand coalition would leave a vacuum of opposition that some other party would fill, and it might not be a party as responsible as the two that vie to govern the country now.

In fact it was a coalition, formed in response to the 1930s Depression, that allowed the Labour Party to become the only viable alternative and win the next election. "Be careful what you wish for," Dr Cullen said. It is a warning to be heeded at a time when we are hearing so many echoes of the Great Depression.

Christmas is particularly welcome at the end of an election year when societies need a reminder of the unity that underlies social and philosophical differences. The Christmas insight to the essential goodness of human nature unites the Christian and non-Christian, even the determinedly irreligious, in celebration of the season.

Such is the generosity of the Christmas, or Christian, spirit that it does not even aggressively demand recognition that the phenomenon of Christmas is a Christian creation. We are forever being reminded of the pre-Christian festivals and the Jewish, Islamic and other religious observances that coincide with Christmas.

In excessive deference to the rest, the word Christmas is declining in fashionable use in some quarters of the cosmopolitan West. Greeting cards and other messages have adopted the anodyne "Happy Holiday" in a misplaced spirit of inclusion.

Misplaced, because migrants from all countries delight in this element of their adopted country's religious heritage. Countries with different religious traditions have happily adopted all the trappings of Christmas. Santa Claus is a universal presence and the carols and the cribs, the angels, shepherds, the baby in a manger, are never far away.

So give religion its due at this time of year. Great numbers do. Churches tonight and early tomorrow will be filled by many who have been moved by the spirit. They might not all accept religion's answers to the mysteries of existence but they value its influence for goodness, warmth and generosity.

The Herald today offers a diet of items we count as good news. Even in hard times there is an abundance of it. Kindness, contentment, good fortune abound but often pass unnoticed amid the rancour, cruelty and disputes that dominate public discussion. At this time of every year we are reminded that a finer spirit resides in everyone.

We wish all our readers a warm and happy Christmas.