Tis the Season of Giving, the Season of Light


Tvisha Goel

The Goel family decorates their Christmas tree during the Holidays. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, many families managed to capture the holiday spirit.

There are 1.54 million families for whom this season of light is dimmer than last. Beneath their masks one may not find upturned smiles, rosy cheeks, or yuletide wishes. As a year marked by a global pandemic finally comes to an end, too many find themselves with an emptiness caused by COVID-19. No perfectly-pitched carol, turkey dinner, or shiny wrapped present will fill the voids that have opened while the world awaits deployment of a successful vaccine. Recent developments offer hope, but it falls to us to offer comfort. As we gather around tables, trees, and candles in the coming weeks, it is important to remember that the best presents we can offer to others are our selves.

While the pandemic has exacerbated the sadness this year, the holiday season is often very tough for a very many unmerry people. It’s stressful. It can be cold. It can be lonely. It can be anything but the most wonderful time of the year. And yet, at the same time, the troubled can’t wait for the holidays to come round every year. It’s one of life’s most vicious incongruities. 

For many, the Holiday Spirit has the ability to heal all wounds, to turn all frowns around, or to fill all hearts with warm cocoa and peppermint spice.  But as too many know, sometimes when one loses the person in his or her life whom he or she considers to be the North Star, it’s hard to find one’s way back home. So, sometimes one has to just circle the metaphorical wagons and find a new guiding light. 

For many who experienced loss this year, whether from illness, tragedy, or age, that light is often found in the company of friends, family, and familiar traditions. A personalized note, unexpected mid-day phone call, or quickly Snapped selfie provide opportunities to make someone feel connected to a community that he or she may feel cut-off from. Take advantage of BOGO sales to leave candies and snacks for a neighbor who may have lost the one they shared such deals with. Instead of playing the latest game on your phone with those you know, click the button to be matched with a random stranger. You may be that person’s chance at feeling like a winner again.

The year families from Jupiter to Japan will find themselves looking back on how they’ve arrived here and asking themselves where they’re going to next. They will still exchange gifts, though the shopping list may be digital. They will still watch Frosty and Rudolph on television or AppleTV+, and they’ll still gather to talk about years that seem as innocent and serene as an undisturbed dream. Families will still find a way to keep the spirit of those they love very much alive in the ways they embrace the holiday spirit that seems to be carried in on the chilly winter winds that find them, even in South Florida. They will still make it a point, you know, to have a holly, jolly holiday.

These attempts at normalcy won’t just be undertaken by those who have lost loved ones this year. The events of 2020 have families facing high levels of stress and anxiety for a variety of factors, including economic insecurity, racial intolerance, immigration policies, family changes, educational expectations, and even quarantine-inspired fluctuations in weight. 

According to Harry Reis, professor of psychology at University of Rochester, “This is a time of the year where people traditionally take a break from work and connect with people they care about, break their routine, travel, do those things. A large number of Americans won’t be able to do that this year.” 

Around the world families are wondering how they will get through the holidays this year given so much uncertainty. Parents and caring adults who strive hard to shield children from distress and despair wonder how they will be able to maintain the spirit and magic of our much-loved rituals and traditions when it seems they may not be able to celebrate as we have in years past.

How can the rest of us help? How can we become gifts? As with all holiday gifts, we can WRAP ourselves in the spirit of the season.

Wear your heart on your sleeve. Many wrongly assume that this means to be in a happy, uplifting, positive mood. Instead, be yourself. Laugh at jokes, deeply inhale when the cookies come out of the oven, cry when the guy holds up the poster boards with declarations of love during Love, Actually. Show your true colors– red, green, blue, and white. You cannot inspire feelings if you’re afraid to show your own.

Respond to others. Being a good gift means being responsive to others’ needs. Instead of being a savior, be a helper. Start your service with a question: “What can I do to make this year special?” Ask others what their favorite memories from past years are, what they cherish most about the people, places, and events of the season, and explore with them new ways to celebrate. Spend time focusing on what remains meaningful, and reconnecting to the values behind the holidays: gratitude, kindness, charity, and hope.

Accept the sadness.  Qi Wang, professor and department chair of human development at Cornell University advises, “Americans tend to assume happiness is the norm, and unhappy means something is wrong. Obviously keeping that mentality during the pandemic isn’t realistic. It’s not about us, it’s just the situation. We don’t have control of the situation.” 

Prioritize patience. A gift waits to be opened. This requires patience. Sometimes it takes time for someone to seek out the opportunity to unbox the source of their next smile.

This is the real point to the holidays: no one is alone. Not when we’re feeling like it, when everyone else in our world may seem different from us, when tears come quicker than giggles, when each of our parents want us to be at their house when we wake up and run down to find presents beneath the tree, when it’s New Year’s day and we’re just starting to tackle the pile of homework that some teacher decided to gift us, when we’re at our wits end, when we realize that the sweaters we’re wearing is being viewed as ugly even though we secretly think we look amazing in them. When the season seems dimmest, we can glow the brightest.