We are all in the midst of holiday festivities. 

There are neighborhood gatherings, office parties, social occasions, presents to be bought and wrapped, a few more decorations to add to what is already there, cards to send and the list goes on and on.

All of this is going on in our homes and workplaces, or at least in proximity to us, whether we feel festive or not.

Truth be told, many of us are not in a
festive mood. 

Many of us are sad for all sorts of reasons, and some of us are actually hungry even as others are making and sharing goodies which surface only this time of year. Some of us are coping with loss, with aging, with loneliness, even as our televisions show happy folks in their party clothes in sparkling settings and toasting each other with everything from grape juice to champagne. 

Elizabeth Dreesen, a surgeon, writes an occasional column for the News and Observer. A recent one recounts her elderly father’s knee replacement surgery and her family’s struggles as they coped with the same health and aging issues facing millions of American families. Her mother, plagued with respiratory problems, resisted in-home help, and although the knee surgery was uneventful and successful, Dr. Dreesen acknowledges a much clearer understanding of what many of her patients and their families go through both within the medical system and with the difficulties of aging parents. If she, a smart and highly-educated medical professional, was flummoxed by this common experience, no wonder the rest of us are as well.

Two of my oldest friends, women I have known and loved since college, died within 12 hours of each other last month. Both had battled debilitating illnesses with courage, and their deaths were not surprising but were still deeply painful. Both leave families who are going to have very different holidays this year with empty spots where their loved ones used to be.

Another friend lost her husband a year ago on Christmas day. She is a person of many interests and who has many friends, but I know the holidays are especially difficult for her this year.

When I see the holiday television commercials in which everyone seems good-looking, happy, healthy and glowing with seasonal goodwill, I somehow assume they are all wealthy as well. Probably not, of course, but it is true that in our country the rich are indeed getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Forbes magazine reports the highest number of billionaires ever recorded in the world, with the United States having more than any other nation. This sort of wealth creation has got to be a good thing, but it is mirrored by other sad and alarming numbers. 

The Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire reports that almost 1 in 4 American children now lives in poverty. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau says that mean household income continues to fall at the same time safety nets, including basic food assistance, at all levels of government are shrinking. Home ownership is also declining, down for the fifth year in a row to just over 63 percent. A drive around our own county confirms the obvious need for life’s basics by the number of people begging at intersections.

I feel a bit like Mrs. Scrooge writing all of this in the midst of what is supposed to be a festive and joyful season, and which many of us pretend is, even if we are not feeling so joyful or festive ourselves. 

I write it, though, to remind us that many among us — friends, neighbors, coworkers, relatives, face challenging situations in their lives that darken not only their ordinary days but their holidays as well. Some of their problems are of their own making, some are out of their control, and some are both. But however they arose, they are driving factors in the lives of people around us, some of whom we know and love.

Some of us blessed to feel festive and joyful can and do volunteer for others not only during the holidays but the rest of the year as well. Some of us can and do share not only our time and talent but our treasure with others at this time of year and at other times. 

All of us can pick up the phone, write a note or pay a visit to someone who is struggling for whatever reason this holiday season. All of us can reach out in some way to someone who is short of cheer this year. All of us can show generosity of spirit in a way that eases the care of another.

Wishing you and those you love a warm, wonderful, and giving holiday season.

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