Today marks the official start of the holiday shopping season, a sort of Super Bowl for consumers. Department stores slash prices on a whole variety of great gifts then open their doors before dawn to eager shoppers trying to beat the mad holiday rush.

No one should doubt today's importance on their pocketbooks. Last year, 63 million Americans went shopping the day after Thanksgiving, spending $28 billion by the time Monday arrived. The number of Americans shopping through this weekend is anticipated to reach 137 million. That amounts to a lot of goods being sold, which equates to a lot of jobs in producing, shipping and hawking them.

During the frenzied search for the best Christmas or Hanukkah present, let us not forget what the holiday season is all about. Yes, the gifts are an important part of it, for Christians representing the treasures the Three Wise Men gave Jesus following his birth and for Jews symbolizing the coins and candy pieces won by spinning the dreidel during Antiochus' tyranny. But the holidays also are about home and family. This is the time when parents and children, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins gather around the same hearth to celebrate their shared roots.

Unfortunately, in our modern society where family members often live hundreds of miles apart, the importance of home and family sometimes gets lost. Perhaps some of us subconsciously try to fill the void with gifts.

And as interstate highways and job opportunities have spread out families, the sense of community also has taken a hit in modern America. Perhaps some of us subconsciously look forward to today's holiday shopping spree, as this thoroughly modern phenomenon culturally ties Americans.

Let us suggest a way to reconnect with home and town this holiday season. On Saturday, gather your family together and attend the community's annual Holiday Light Parade and Tree Lighting. Held in downtown Crescent City from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., the event is a great way to entertain the kids with a parade and spend time among neighbors while sipping coffee or hot chocolate. Follow it up with a meal in which the whole family sits at the same table. It may not sound as exciting as the latest Xbox, but it will be far more comforting.

By the way - just in case you have to work today - downtown businesses will stay open during the parade, so you'll also have a chance to find that perfect gift.