As soon as we pack up the Thanksgiving leftovers, my husband and I spring into full holiday shopping mode. Over the past five years or so, the process has almost become a science for us. We make sure we are pre-armed with all the “Black Friday” sales flyers, and we plan out the day to the minute. We set the alarm for 4 a.m.–sometimes 3:30–just to make sure “supplies last” at the stores where we plan to get the “best deals.” In response to hearing friends or family boast during Thanksgiving dinner about how they’ve already finished their shopping for the season, we exchange glances that only the other understands: “Suckers!”

Retailers have done an excellent job over the years training consumers like Joe and me to think that the really great deals offered throughout the entire calendar year occur only on Black Friday. We shop not only for Christmas presents but also for ourselves. We’ve made mental–as well as actual–notes during the preceding 11 months of the big-ticket items we’re going to get for a song on this one day of the year. Each year, we plan to buy all of our presents on Black Friday, so we can relax and enjoy the rest of the holiday season. Each year, we fail.

Our ritual has become such a huge part of kicking off the holidays that we appreciate both the successes and the failures. And whether we come home feeling like we hit the jackpot or completely bombed, we always end the day sipping a nice red wine and listening to Bing Crosby. Clich?, maybe. But it has come to define the holidays for us, and we celebrate this one day almost as much as we do Dec. 25.

This year has been challenging for all of us. The budget cuts and layoffs that have plagued American businesses make it difficult to look back and celebrate what a great year 2009 has been. Sure, 2009 has thrown us some curve balls–the continuing struggles of the economy and the swine flu pandemic come immediately to mind. But it has also brought some positives–law firms are more receptive to alternative billing arrangements, and the President’s pick for the Supreme Court won praise from business groups. In this month’s cover story, the InsideCounsel Top 20, we look at these and other stories that have impacted the in-house bar.

So, pour a glass of whatever you fancy, flip to page 44 and try to celebrate even the challenges of the past year for having made our lives and work more interesting.

Happy holidays!