Thanksgiving is bittersweet for many American women. Sure, they treasure time with family — but when did the time between Labor Day and Thanksgiving disappear? Women are now wrestling with turkeys and pumpkin pies — and with the realization that only 30 shopping days remain before Christmas. This holiday weekend kicks off a whirlwind of shopping, wrapping, baking and decorating.

Before this merry madness begins, American women should take time to count their blessings and recognize what a landmark year it was for women around the world.

This year, a brutal dictator in Iraq fell and will soon be made to answer for his crimes. Twelve million Iraqi women who once lived in fear under Saddam Hussein now work with Iraqi men to build a stable government that respects individual rights. Afghani woman — formerly prisoners of the Taliban, forbidden from leaving their homes or showing their faces — now march to voting booths and cast ballots in a democratic election. The road to stability in both countries will be long and treacherous, but we should applaud the bravery of these women who are laying the foundation for a hopeful future for their societies.

Here at home, American women continue to excel and break new ground. Dr. Condoleezza Rice has been nominated by President Bush to serve as Secretary of State. She will be the first African-American woman to hold that post. Across the country, women are excelling in our universities, earning more than half of bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a growing portion of law, medical and doctoral degrees. These well-educated women will join a growing economy and make important contributions for decades to come.

Much of America’s pop culture — from reality television to Britney Spears’ and Jennifer Lopez’s highly publicized, tumultuous love lives — suggests that our moral fabric continues to fray. Yet there are positive signs that the next generation may be embracing greater personal responsibility. The Center for Disease Control recently reported that the birth rate among 10- to 14-year-old girls has plummeted to its lowest level since 1946. The portion of pregnancies ended through abortion has remained stable for 30 years, so that this figure represents a decline in both underage pregnancies and abortions.

This trend is also evident among older teens. Public health experts credit several possible causal factors — such as increased sex education and greater focus on abstinence — but data indicates that more teens are embracing an ethic of reserving sex for love and marriage. The percentage of high schoolers who have had intercourse fell from 54 percent to 46 percent over ten years — a 16 percent drop. A 2003 survey of teens asked when it was okay for someone to lose their virginity; a majority responded “18 or older,” and one in four volunteered that virginity should be maintained until marriage.

Women can also be cautiously optimistic that our education system is improving. Increasingly, parents are being empowered through charter schools, voucher programs, and tax credits. One thousand mothers in Washington, D.C., are particularly thankful this year. Their children are the first beneficiaries of a voucher program that helps low-income parents pay tuition at a school of their choice. These children are finally receiving a quality education that will help them live up to their potentials.

In the year to come, American women can hope for more progress. President Bush has pledged to make Social Security reform a top priority. Reform allowing workers to use a portion of payroll taxes to fund personal retirement accounts would give millions of women the chance to accrue real retirement savings. Tax simplification is also on the agenda. Right now, the average taxpayer spends 13 hours filling out forms each year. Tax simplification could give precious hours back to families.

American women should also reflect on those who have lost sons and daughters this year and those whose loved ones are still deployed overseas. They are a part of a proud tradition of Americans who have fought for freedom world wide — from Korea to the shores of France. Every family should make sure that those soldiers and their loved ones are included in our thoughts and prayers at Thanksgiving.

Don’t let last minute hassles of cutting kids’ turkey and thoughts of cleaning dishes overwhelm the meaning of this optimistic and uniquely American holiday. Take time to give thanks for our blessings, for they are truly abundant this year.