Christmas in America has become a commercial holiday, with an emphasis on gift-giving and the shopping required to dole out and accumulate presents.

But even as some ignore or obscure what makes this time of year special, it becomes more apparent to those who believe. Christmas is about believing, though it's certainly up to the individual to choose his or her beliefs.

Small children believe in Santa Claus, placing their faith in the jolly old elf's ability to find their homes, be they ever so humble, and leave toys that let them lose themselves in play.

The faith of some adults, meanwhile, is in their fellow man. They believe in the value of every human being, that kindness more often than not is rewarded with kindness, and that it's better to give than to receive. Rather than mystical, they see their belief in mankind as natural.

Some believe the modern exchange of gifts may have originated with the gold, frankincense, and myrrh the biblical wise men are said to have given to the baby Jesus. Christian theologians say the baby himself was a gift from God who, through his later sacrifice in allowing himself to be crucified, makes available to all who believe the ability to have an eternal relationship with the Lord.

The Jesus story isn't part of everyone's beliefs. But many skeptics will put aside their skepticism to celebrate Christmas anyway. They may not attend church services or say a prayer at dinner, but in some way their actions will indicate their approval of the holiday's focus on the ways people show they care about each other.

That's important in a nation that sometimes seems more divided than it's been since the Civil War. As it was then, the division seems more pronounced in politics, where the schism between Democrats and Republicans has widened. That's due partly to the recent ascendancy of the tea-party movement, but social issues such as abortion and gay rights, which have divided people for much longer - often along religious lines - also continue to play a role.

Christmas should offer a respite from division. It's a once-a-year opportunity to look past our differences and concentrate on what it means to have faith. For the religious, that faith is placed in the ability of the divine to overcome any circumstance. Others place their faith in man's ability to adapt and progress.

Either way, there's a good story that illustrates what great faith can produce. Its writers say it began a long time ago in a little town in the Middle East.