December looks a little different this year. Our neighborhoods are still adorned with lights, our living rooms with decorations that reflect holidays past. But we all know this December is vastly different. If we’re not taking risks, we’ve planned intimate gatherings at home with our immediate family. Maybe others will join on Zoom. How many even knew what Zoom was last year?
Comments on social media would suggest that some may actually be relieved by scaled back holiday plans this year. “For 20 years I’ve hosted both Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day,” one friend explained. “The majority of my time was spent cooking and cleaning. This year I just get to enjoy being with my family. I’ve never looked forward to it more!”
The empty boxes stacked high in the garage proved that this was a year of online shopping like no other. How grateful we can be for that convenience and no disruption in our ability to provide that perfect gift! Those not touched by the economic downturn provided much needed help to those who were. “Despite March’s stock market plunge, within the first four months of the year, donors nationwide recommended 544,000 grants totaling $2.4 billion — an increase of 16% from the same time in 2019,” reported Kiplinger (L. Bader, 3 August 2020, 3 Reasons Why 2020 May Be the Greatest Giving Year Ever). I personally saw donors respond to United Way Metro Chicago’s Uniting for the Holidays drive exceeding goal by more than 37% (or $75k).
As the increased numbers of those in need reinforces, this holiday season is difficult for many. Although the holiday season is difficult for a lot of people every year. For some, the holidays are a time when depression or feelings of isolation can intensify. According to Psychology Today (Baratta, M. 12 Dec 2016, Dreading the Holidays: 5 tips to help you get through), “For some it’s an acute reminder that their family is dysfunctional, or uncaring or nonexistent or that it’s been a really hard year.”
There are a whole host of reasons that can make this time of year difficult as outline in Holiday Depression Is A Real Thing—Here’s How To Deal (K. Miller 7 Sept 2018, Women’s Health), but perhaps the worse is grief. “Many of us have dealt with loss at some point in our lives, and we’ve learned to carry these special people in our hearts so that they are always with us. But missing someone never goes away. There are so many experiences in our lives we wish we could just snap our fingers and have them right by our sides—the holidays being one of those.” (A. Buoni, Grief makes the holidays even harder, Motherly)
Here in America this holiday season, there are the families of 319,827 (as of yesterday morning according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center) lost to COVID-19 who are dealing with their grief in addition to other families who have empty seats at their holiday tables for other reason that won’t be filled by someone over zoom.
A different December for me – the holiday season by which I now judge all holiday seasons – was 2014. It was a lot colder, a lot darker than anything I am personally experiencing now. It was two months after my husband’s suicide. I was on line at Starbucks on 7th Avenue in New York City a block from Penn Station. I was on my way home after an appointment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center with news that I would have to go back for a biopsy. This after having concluded radiation treatment four months prior for an early-stage breast cancer.
There’s a meme going around social media of a sign posted to a Starbucks’ glass door (I assume this because it includes a hand-drawn picture of a Starbucks cup). The sign reads, “Today you could be standing next to someone who is trying their best not to fall apart. Whatever you do today, do it with kindness in your heart.”
I hope that in our hearts, regardless of how we’ve faired this year, that we use the season to reflect on what we value most. It’s those values that should transcend this different kind of year. It is those values that should determine how we live and give every year and every season moving forward. Wishing you and yours peace and love.