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Christmas is a good time to count blessings. It falls just before the end of the year, making it an ideal opportunity for thoughtful reflection and forward-looking optimism.

That said, this has not always been an easy year for the people in the Abby-Colby area. All you need to do is read the front-page headlines over the past two weeks to realize how many people out there are hurting because of various alleged misdeeds and haunting memories from a cold case homicide that shook the area 13 years ago.

The sad and disturbing details of these cases seem particularly out of place during what is supposed to be the most joyous time of year. But, unfortunately, enforcement of the law through our court system does not magically come to a halt just because we are celebrating the birth of a savior or awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus.

Blessedly, the brighter aspects of life also continue to shine throughout this time of year. Two recent traffic accidents that could have resulted in tragedies were instead turned into stories of survival, complete with glimmering examples of humans helping other humans in their time of need.

First was the wreck at the intersection in Dorchester the weekend before Thanksgiving that very easily could have claimed the life of a mother of three. Thanks to the work of our local firefighters and EMTs from Central Fire and EMS, the woman was safely extricated from her badly damaged vehicle and airlifted to a hospital, where she was treated and released that night.

It was touching to hear about the woman’s kids coming to the fire district’s Christmas party last week to say thank-you in person. According to battalion chief John Austin, that doesn’t happen very often — only twice in his 23 years as a firefighter. It seems that we as citizens need to do a better job of thanking our first responders, who routinely leave the comfort of their homes to face down fires, accidents and sudden deaths. Anyone who has ever been involved in one of those situations before should really take the time to personally thank the people who showed up to help.

Another example of a close call was the school bus accident on Draper Road that occurred on Dec. 6. According to the man driving the bus that afternoon, and to witnesses who arrived on scene after the collision, it’s a miracle that no one was seriously hurt or killed when the bus was t-boned by a truck. With 25 school kids on board, this could have been an unthinkable nightmare. Instead, it was a story of older children working heroically to help out their younger classmates as they evacuated the bus from the emergency exit in the back — just as they are taught to do every year as part of safety drills.

The parents of these kids are undoubtedly thankful for the blessing of having them home safe, and they should also be proud of them for putting into practice what they have been taught, even under the most stressful of circumstances. Colby School District officials and Burnett Transit also deserve kudos for responding to the accident in a quick and efficient manner.

This brings us to all the things we may be tempted to take for granted this of year: the school concerts, the Santa Claus visits and the annual outpouring of generosity in the form of donated gifts, clothing, money and food to those less fortunate. All of these traditions may seem ordinary and almost perfunctory, but they should really be seen as signs of altruistic neighbors maintaining their sense of commmunity despite personal strife, economic uncertainty and political divisions.

Christmas Day will have passed by the time our readers get their copies of this week’s edition, but we hope you take the time to read not just the bad news but also the good. It’s human nature to get mired in the darker shades of life, but this holiday in particular is about hope and redemption. That’s a reason to celebrate for more than one day a year.

The Tribune-Phonograph editorial board consists of publisher Kris O’Leary and editor Kevin O’Brien