It’s Christmas time again, and what an interesting year it has been. From the detoriation of Wall Street to the housing meltdown; from volatile gas prices to thousands of layoffs; from a winning presidential campaign that promised hope to the previously-decided unconstitutional ban on gay marriage, 2008 had it all. As we look back, one can’t help but wonder, are we united or are we divided?

Over the last six months, letters, phone calls and general comments have ranged from praise and encouragement to outrage and disappointment. Certain residents of Ventura County are as conservative as others are liberal. In realizing such diversity here, we appreciate and look forward to every letter and comment we receive, positive or negative.

As Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Our mission here is to inform you of what your neighbors and friends have to say about what is going on right here in Ventura County and around the world. We are here to help you connect the dots when your Yes on Prop. 8 signs were being pulled out of the ground. We want you to know what your neighbors and friends think about life, love and politics. We also want you to know about the love and hate that abounds in this community. This is your world; we are just here to put it on the record and let you be the judge.

This holiday season, instead of holding a grudge against anything contradictory to your moral fiber, think of being in someone else’s shoes. As we relax and watch holiday films and/or our children tear into presents, think of those who couldn’t afford to buy presents this year because of layoffs and still have no certain future. Think of the many who are living in motels or, worse, on the street, after their homes went into foreclosure. Think of your neighbors who had to shut down their businesses after 20 years because people didn’t shop there any more.

But at least we live here in the United States.

Things could be worse. We could be in a country that restricted free speech and burned literature, where people are jailed for speaking their minds. We could live in a place where civilians are beaten for questioning their governments, and the democratic system doesn’t exist. We could live in a nation where women are forced to cover their faces, and homosexuals are persecuted. We could live where food is scarce and establishments like FOOD Share and homeless shelters are only a pipe dream.

Thanks to our forefathers and those who fought and continue to fight for the freedom that we often take for granted, we are able to pursue our dreams and even have a system built to help the less fortunate, those who have lost their jobs and their homes.

This holiday season, be happy we live in this wonderful community and great country. Be quick to love and not judge. Be glad that not everyone is alike, and that our society has a value system made up of millions of diverse individual viewpoints, yet we can still live peaceably with each other.

We hope that you and your loved ones have a great holiday, whether you are celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or just time off from work. We look forward to a great new year, with both promise and inspiration that things will be better for everyone.

Have a safe and happy holiday!