Well, looks like those arches are golden after all. McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) served up a supersized value meal of good news yesterday, holding back on the pickles, as December proved to be the fourth consecutive month of domestic double-digit gains in comparable unit sales. While the leading restaurant operator's international business hasn't bounced back as dramatically, December did mark the third straight month of gains in Europe.

It's important to remember the basis of these comparisons. It wasn't until this past April that McDonald's finally snapped out of its funk of producing over a year of consecutive monthly declines. The company had sandbagged those results by inadvertently relying on a dollar menu that is now no longer prominently featured to drive down sales. The new premium salads and specialty sandwiches rock, but even if they were putrid, marketing the higher priced items would have enabled sales growth in the near term anyway.

But these gains are real. McDonald's has made significant strides under CEO Jim Cantalupo. While the company was never in any real threat to be overtaken by rivals like Burger King or Wendy's (NYSE:WEN) for market dominance in the burger wars, it was a sinking brand. It probably hit a new low this summer when Merriam-Webster added the word McJobs -- defined as a menial task -- into its dictionary.

McDonald's is focused these days, primarily on shedding many of its non-core operations. The resulting charges will find the company posting just a dime a share in earnings for the quarter, but it will set the stage for a telltale 2004 with less distractions.

After last year's gains, this month will be the real test as dieters tied to New Year's resolutions and the resurgent fear of mad cow disease may tempt some last-minute swerves out of the drive-thru lane. While the current quarter will benefit from being compared against three months of same-unit sales declines, the company will have to earn any comp gains come April.

For shareholders waiting on an answer, they, too, will be "lovin' it" when they get one.

Are you a believer in Mickey D's? What do you think of the recent wave of healthier menu moves like Wendy's offering kids fruit cups or Burger King announcing a bunless Whopper this week? All this and more -- in the McDonald's discussion board. Only on Fool.com.