Speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, Benedict said he was trying to inspire hope in the world.
"Brothers and sisters, all you who are listening to my words: this proclamation of hope — the heart of the Christmas message — is meant for all men and women."
The traditional papal Christmas Day message "Urbi et Orbi" — Latin for "to the City and to the World" — usually covers the globe's hot spots, but this year Benedict also addressed the economic conditions worrying many across the planet amid near-daily news of layoffs, failing companies and people losing homes.
Benedict said his Christmas message applied to "wherever an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations."
"In each of these places may the light of Christmas shine forth and encourage all people to do their part in a spirit of authentic solidarity," Benedict said. "If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart."
Benedict said he hoped the light of Christmas would radiate to places where "the basics needed for survival are missing."
Wearing a crimson mantle against a damp chill, Benedict told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square that God's saving grace could "alone transform evil into good" and "change human hearts, making them oases of peace."