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Getting together this time of year

THIS is a time for folks to get together, and you can see it everywhere. Groups of strangers gathering for ``Messiah'' sing-alongs, 5,000-strong, in Chicago's Orchestra Hall. A young couple with backpacks and taped-together suitcases in the predawn dark, headed for the morning train out of town.

One friend's relatives are coming to New England from the Virgin Islands. Now that's a family whose spirit knows no meteorological bounds!

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This mini-trend of global connectedness doesn't have to be in person, of course. Sixth-graders in Newton, Mass., phoned up the sixth-graders in Barrow, Alaska, to find out what winter above the Artic Circle is like. (Cold and dark!)

Nor is it limited to those who traditionally find this a time of year to get in touch with the rest of humanity. Though they probably won't celebrate Christmas, even Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov - those record-breaking Soviet cosmonauts - arranged to be home for the holidays.

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