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Americans Gather for Christmas Holiday

Americans across the United States are gathering with family and friends and conducting some last-minute shopping as they prepare for Monday's Christmas holiday.

Christmas is both a secular and a religious holiday, when most businesses close and families exchange gifts and enjoy large meals. Millions also attend Christmas Eve church services Sunday.

The gift giving tradition makes the season a lucrative time for retailers. But it is also a time when many families who live apart try to spend time together.

President Bush Sunday telephoned 10 members of the U.S. military who are overseas or who recently returned home to wish them a Merry Christmas and to thank them for their service.

Christmas Eve is also a time when children anticipate the coming of Santa Claus, a mythical figure who flies around the world overnight to deliver presents to good children. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, which guards against security threats in U.S. and Canadian airspace, provides updates on what it says is Santa's progress across the globe.