It's the season of secular expressions of joy and wrapping paper (as my Mother likes to call it). In my house, we have put up our Chanukkah Bush and decorated it with twinkling blue and white lights, tiny dreidels, and otherwise religion-free ornaments reflecting an admittedly superficial but nonetheless upbeat desire to whoop it up along with everyone else. As is the case every year, high atop the tree we have placed a metallic green frog which symbolizes ... well, amphibians for one thing. And on our mantel we have hung our artisanal stockings, made, it seems, from bits and pieces of designer clothing, in the hopes that the Chanukkah Chicken will soon fill them with gift cards. He will do this, oddly enough, on Christmas Eve, at which time there will be much wassailing, or, as was the case last night during our tree decorating ceremonies, there will be drinking of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale while listening to the Smiths. Merry Morrissey everybody!
In this spirit of confused, non-denominational good cheer, it is appropriate that we take a moment to set aside our usual pessimism and worries and seek out that which is best and most hopeful in the world. It's out there, you know. You can see it in the eyes of young children and in the long lines of people waiting at gas station cash registers to buy their pre-Xmas Powerball tickets. But you can also find that sense of optimism in your newspapers and in your Twitter feed. This old world's not doing so badly. People live longer, eat better, are better educated, and have higher standards of living than ever before. There are no world wars. The threat of global thermonuclear catastrophe is much less than it was when I was growing up and we were all being taught how to huddle under our desks in anticipation of being incinerated. (Thanks for that, "Greatest Generation.")
Indeed, in every dark headline that normally would have you popping antacids like they were candy, there is a silver lining. In fact, there are so many ways to look at recent developments with optimism that we could fashion out of them our own Foreign Policy advent calendar: 25 stories which, when you open the little door and look inside them, contain at least one tiny, sparkling, glimmer of hope.