WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama encouraged Americans to embrace the spirit of Christmas by helping those in need, and offered a special note of gratitude to U.S. troops serving at the expense of a holiday with family and friends.
In a recorded Christmas message released Wednesday, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama reflected on the lessons they said their family draws from the birth and life of Jesus. The president urged Americans to carry forward those lessons by volunteering at a soup kitchen, buying gifts for kids in need, or organizing food and clothing drives.
"For all of us as Americans, regardless of our faith, those are values that can drive us to be better parents and friends, better neighbors and better citizens," he said.
By early afternoon the White House had not announced how the Obamas were spending Christmas Day at the vacation home his family rents in Honolulu. In years past, he spent part of the holiday visiting troops at a nearby military base.
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, paid a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where they visited patients and families. The hospital treats many military members wounded in war.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel offered his holiday wishes to troops by phone, calling military members stationed in Afghanistan to extend his gratitude to them and their units, the Pentagon said.
In the weekly radio and Internet address, Mrs. Obama said now that more troops are home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nation must find new ways to give back. "It's our turn to step up and show our gratitude for the military families who have given us so much," she said.
In the Republican address, Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho said America's most prized gifts include freedom and worship. He thanked the military for defending U.S. freedoms.