The Haass talks are reaching their crunch point today, when the parties will study the latest proposals to deal with the thorny issues of parades, flags and the past.
The hints from Dr Richard Haass so far suggest that progress has been made on parades and dealing with the past. Any agreement in these areas is to be welcomed, but it is clear, however, that the flying of flags remains the sticking point.
There are even suggestions that this issue might be left on the long finger, for discussion at a later date, but if this happens, it would be seen by most people as a sad ending to the current round of talks.
It would also show that the parties do not have the same ingenuity and determination to succeed, which helped the historic Good Friday Agreement to change the face of Northern Ireland politics. A failure to agree on flags will further puzzle outsiders, who will not understand why a flagpole is more important to some people here than peace, inward investment and the prospect of a better future.
For better or worse, however, the question of flags strikes to the heart of the problem. People are unwilling to give up the symbols at the centre of their cultural identity.
Sadly, however, there seems little inclination so far to accept Dr Haass' imaginative challenge to bring forward proposals for a new flag with which everyone could identify.
Nevertheless, the majority of people, and this newspaper, are impressed by the efforts of the parties in continuing to talk through this holiday period, and the dedication of Dr Haass and his colleagues, who have spent so long in trying to help us find a way out of the morass.
The urgency of finding an agreement has been underlined by Lord Eames, who previously dedicated himself, with others, to finding a solution. He is right to underline that the new generations, who have not suffered like others in the past, have a right to look for a future where there is "some sort of security, stability and hope".
It would be a huge pity if, having come so far in the Haass talks, the politicians stumbled at the last hurdle. We urge them to produce a meaningful document, and not something that will melt away as quickly as the predicted Christmas snow.