Andy Rooney is gone now, but in the spirit in this season, I feel like the holiday shopping madness just wouldn't complete without a quick look back to last November, when the ever-timely newsman hooked his lead to the official start of the Christmas Season, which is, of course, really a different holiday entirely, namely Thanksgiving.

Maybe it's because it has, thanks, and giving in the name?

After all, Christmas is the time of the year that you hear the most thanks and do the most giving. So why not have the Christmas season start at Christmas? But it started already, so that is just water, and money, under the bridge.

In reality, most of us, of course, do way more giving in April, if you count the taxes we all cough up each year as giving. But forking over my taxes just doesn't invoke the same spirit of Christmas--or anything close. I've never gotten a word of thanks from the IRS, either. And I'm willing to bet you haven't gotten any thanks from them, too.

Perhaps people would feel better about the government, if they sent us thank-you cards. I remember the ones I sent my grandparents each year--I confess at the prodding of my parents. Those were appreciated. Maybe if the government thanked us for the money we sent them, just a note, nothing fancy, not even signed by the President personally, we would like it more. Maybe if it sent a nice thank-you card to those billionaires and big corporations who pay no taxes at all they would be more inclined to pay some. It's worth a thought.

Rooney reviewed his favorite gifts, and I won't even try to equal the wonderfulness of his recounting of those with any of mine. But I do remember when I was very, very young, well before I could read, finding the presents under the tree and somehow divining which were mine and opening just them. That is my only personal Christmas miracle. But it is nice to have one. I hope each of you have your own personal miracle, too, and have a chance to recall it in a few days.

This Christmas there are stores that will be open for days straight. That is a miracle for all of us who still shop at the very last minute--despite our best intentions. That never used to be the way it was. The pressure was on to get it done before Christmas Eve or you were cooked. But now Macy's on 34th St. is open for 83 straight hours leading up to Christmas, according to the New York Times.

I guess that might help me. But it might also let me put it off even later. So that would be no help at all really.

A lot of people, too, take great pride and pleasure in shopping early for presents, wrapping them and hiding in recesses of closets and under beds--I never did figure out where my folks hid the swag and they still won't tell me decades later.

But no matter how you shop, and, frankly, what your religion, there is something about the season that works for me. It gives us each a chance to give and to receive. And to give thanks to each other for the lives we share, symbolized by some bit of clothing or what-have-you that we may or may not really need or want, which doesn't matter, of course.

Rooney is gone this year, but maybe this is as good a time as any to thank him for his particular gift--a brand of journalism that never detached itself from the basic human connection between the reporter and the subject in order to be objective, to make a point, or even to express an opinion. No one really can keep a reporter in line when it comes to that. It's something that takes something really quaint and old-fashioned, what used to be known as character. Rooney had that.

It often seems these days that in all walks of life, whether in politics, business, sports, arts, and, yes, journalism, character too often gives way to popularity, to fame, to money, or to power. Character is an individual thing. There's nothing you can pass a law about that will give a person character, or keep a person from losing it. Laws only work after-the-fact, if at all.

Perhaps it was always so. Or perhaps the instant, always-on, open-all-night-for-shopping world we now live in has made us all more vulnerable. There is so little time in which to make those decisions that make or cost you character these days.

That's something to think about this season, too. This weekend, in keeping with the season, beyond the giving and receiving, beyond even the thanks...all of which is good and fine...it's worth remembering the humanity that was the big deal about the first Christmas. And the character of the individual the story tells us was born that day. He was a straight-shooter. He had character.

So goodbye Mr. Rooney, and season's greetings.