Americans celebrated Christmas this year with gift giving and good works accompanied by concerns for the "all-American heroes" spending the holiday away from home in the Persian Gulf.

"The sacrifices you make will never be forgotten," President Bush said in a holiday message to the 280,000 troops in Operation Desert Shield, taped last week and broadcast Christmas Eve."America is behind you. The world is behind you and history is behind you. When you come home, and we hope it's soon, you'll be welcomed as what you are - all-American heroes," Bush said.

Yellow ribbons - symbolizing the troops abroad - were as prevalent as red and green ones in some households as the threat of war with Iraq loomed.

Christmas cheer was low in Killeen, Texas, as the 67,000 residents struggled against the twin specters of war and a drooping economy. About 20,000 soldiers from Fort Hood have been shipped to the Middle East.

The result has been the closing of more than 100 businesses this year, officials say, and sales are off 60 percent. Hundreds of homes have been repossessed and half the apartments are empty.

"We have been knocked on our knees," City Manager Dan Hobbs says. "It's an incredibly bleak picture."

Shoppers, meanwhile, made their traditional last-minute raids on stores Christmas Eve to finish off their shopping before joining their families for presents, caroling or religious services.

Leslie Searcy, an Atlanta resident, said the sick economy made shoppers leery about making Christmas purchases.

"I saw a lot of people doing a lot of looking before actually buying, as in comparing prices - like I did," Searcy said.