Last week I heard my first Christmas carol of the season. It came as a complete surprise, as these things always do.

Last week I heard my first Christmas carol of the season. It came as a complete surprise, as these things always do.

There I was in a store looking around for something I needed and my ear caught the familiar strains of a holiday tune I have thankfully forgotten since. Not just one, but one Christmas carol after another kept raining down on me from the ubiquitous speakers overhead.

I always wonder how the sales clerks manage to keep their sanity and cheery disposition when the pre-programmed songs loop through again and again. Especially when you know what's coming inexorably and unrelentingly next.

But then, I really shouldn't have been surprised. After all, Thanksgiving is next week. And the day after that is the holiday blowout for shoppers and stores alike — the biggest shopping day of the year.

Getting an early jump on the season has been as much a part of the holidays as fake snow on store windows. And there were indications in recent years that the earlier the better has become the new watchword.

But this year is decidedly different. The economy hasn't seen worse days in the memories of many of us. Being able to go out and buy presents is the least of our worries. Money is not only tight, in some cases it's gone.

With foreclosures and layoffs all too prevalent, far too many people won't have their homes or possibly even their jobs when Christmas rolls around this year. Yet it will be difficult to let go of the holiday tradition of generosity toward charities and giving gifts to family and friends.

Merchants know this all too well and have been trying to figure out how to weather what they anticipate will be a very bleak midwinter in terms of sales.

And what about Christmas office parties, bonuses and days off? In a season meant to be jolly, it's going to take more than a Christmas carol sounding in the store aisles to raise our spirits.

With this in mind, it may well be a good thing to get to work at spreading holiday cheer a little early this year.

That was what faced the indefatigable Mame Dennis in the 1966 Broadway musical "Mame" written by Jerry Herman. Mame lives life to the fullest and she expects those around her to do the same.

Then along comes the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. After losing her fortune, things begin to look hopeless financially and emotionally, even for the ever up-beat Mame. Talk about déjà vu.

As if it were a mantra from on high, out comes the song "We Need a Little Christmas": Haul out the holly Put up the tree before my spirit falls again Fill up the stocking I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.For we need a little Christmas Right this very minute Candles in the window Carols at the spinet Yes, we need a little Christmas Right this very minute It hasn't snowed a single flurry But Santa, dear, we're in a hurry! So climb down the chimney Turn on the brightest string of light I've ever seen Slice up the fruitcake It's time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough.

For I've grown a little leaner Grown a little colder Grown a little sadder Grown a little older And I need a little angel Sitting on my shoulder Need a little Christmas now!

For we need a little music Need a little laughter Need a little singing Ringing through the rafter And we need a little snappy "Happy ever after" Need a little Christmas now!

So, here we are, finding the pluck to face the future with a smile as we watch our savings and retirement go up the very chimney that Santa is to descend. Will there be presents under the tree? Will there be heat from the furnace? Food on the table?

If we learned anything from the recent presidential election, it is the unstoppable power of hope. And hope is as much a part of Christmas as the star over Bethlehem. So here's wishing you a little Christmas hope right this very minute.