AS WE begin our big slide into the Big Day, Christmas, can we take a breath and ask ourselves a question?

I'm not going to ask about the crass commercialism that - to some - mars the celebration of the birth of the one Christians call the Prince of Peace.

Many non-Christians, such as myself, also hold Jesus in high regard.

In his teachings, he didn't want to make you feel sad, and I won't do that in my annual holiday column. It is "holiday," even though "my" December holiday, Hanukkah, came early this year, and Muslims celebrate Milad un Nabi, the Prophet's birthday on Thursday. (Nothing on the Hindu or Sikh calendars in December; Buddhists marked Bodhi Day - when Buddha experienced enlightenment - on the 8th.)

America is diverse and, given our divisions, it's a blessing and amazing we are not at each other's throats, as happens elsewhere. That's one thing that makes us exceptional.

Yes, there have been times in the past when someone's boot was crushing someone else's back, but the worst manifestations of that are gone. (I know some of you say racism is as bad in America as it ever has been. I am sorry you feel that way, but you are very wrong.)

This should be the season for being thankful for what we have, not what we lack, and, maybe, asking what we have done for someone else.

My favorite American Revolutionary, Ben Franklin, asked himself, "What good have I done today?" He believed doing good made his city and his country better, but it also made him better.

If you are thinking of doing something for someone else, the easiest thing is to buy a gift. As one of my editors was fond of saying, "Easy sucks."

It's harder to find a need and fill it.

Do you have a mentor, or a hero of some kind, who helped guide you in life, either by word or by example? (Yes, it could be a parent or other kin.) Have you ever told that person how she or he helped mold you into a better person? Do you realize what a beautiful gift that would be - and it doesn't even have to be gift-wrapped.

If you waited too long and that significant person is gone, do something he or she would have done for someone else. Pay it forward, is what I'm saying.

In your neighborhood, or in your building, or at your job, there is someone who is elderly, or ill, or alone, or all three. Ever think of taking that person home with you for a family dinner? If that sounds like it might ignite a relationship for which you are not ready, have you thought that you or a neighbor or co-worker could take that person out to lunch?

It will cost you a few bucks, and a little time, but it would be a profound gift.

At least that person has a home. What about the people who don't?

Did you ever think about serving a holiday meal in a shelter?

It might be hard for you to leave your comfort zone. Being around sad cases can get to you, if you have a heart.

In reality, there are many volunteers at holiday times. Think about volunteering some other time of year. I know people who volunteer their time get a psychological and emotional lift out of doing good.

A could of weeks back I wrote about a need at St. Joan of Arc, a Catholic worship site in Harrowgate.

Sister Linda Lukiewski needed to get rid of an old and ugly incinerator on the grounds that was a danger to the children in the after-school program. Billy Cooper, of the Philadelphia Recycling Company, removed it for free.

As he did that, due to the age of the structure, a brick wall was busted, creating another possible hazard for the kids.

I wrote about that and the bricklayers' union said, yeah, sure, we'll take care of that. Within a week, the repairs were made by volunteers Matt Stafford, Rich Newcomb, Jim Lennon and others.

To the Samaritans, it was a little thing, more or less. To Sister Linda, and St. Joan, it was huge.

It's all relative, see?

No one's holding a gun to your head. Just think about doing good, and then do it. Be like Ben Franklin.

Merry Christmas.

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