Katie McDowell, Life & Leisure

Hardship is no stranger this holiday season

Well, friends, here we are. Five days out.

There’s no question Christmas will look different this year.

Already we’ve seen some it: Socially distanced Santas, drive-through-only light shows, performances of “The Nutcracker” viewed on laptops instead of in theaters.

Black Friday sales went online, as did the many craft fairs and church bazaars that usually mark the season.

If we’re being smart, a lot of us will share family meals over Zoom, rather than around the table. Holiday toasts will end with a clink on a screen.

It’s weird. Sad. Definitely not ideal.

But not tragic, either.

And while I don’t want to be a downer, particularly this week, I feel it’s important to acknowledge the many people who are facing tragedy this season, or at least, heartbreak and loss.

Those for whom the holiday differences go far beyond FaceTime parties and Saint Nick in a face shield.

To date, this pandemic has taken over 315,000 lives in this country. This Christmas is going to be a distant cry from normal, for the millions of loved ones who miss them.

For those who lost family and friends to causes outside of COVID, who couldn’t attend funerals or host memorial services to recall with others the happy times, this holiday will likely feel much less festive, as well.

The changes will be acute for the scores of addicts out there who were on the path to recovery, only to plunge into relapse during isolation.

Or for people with new addictions taking hold in their loneliness.

It’ll look a lot leaner at the homes of our neighbors who have lost their jobs and are struggling to pay bills, while commercials bombard them with all the gifts they “should” be buying.

The concept of togetherness may be tried for folks whose relationships couldn’t bear the strain of quarantine, and who may find themselves alone on Christmas morning for the first time in years.

It’s miles away from past seasons for small business owners forced to shut the doors on their dreams or reimagine ways to stay afloat in a brutal and unpredictable economy.

For the myriad families finding it difficult to put food on the table after layoffs and closures, the question of where to host Christmas dinner won’t be the problem this year. It’ll be whether they’re able to have Christmas dinner at all.

Seniors who count on visits to their nursing facilities to keep their spirits up will spend this holiday without — while also watching their fellow residents, friends, die in unfathomable numbers.

Imagine facing a Christmas like that after 80-plus years on this planet.

Christmas is different this year, indeed.

For so many people right now, the challenges are life-changing. The ache, unimaginable.

And while we can’t take the pain of those changes away, we can all do one thing.

We can see it. We can recognize it.

We can care.

I think in this strange year, more than any other, the most precious gift we can give is compassion.

Please, be generous with it.

Happy holidays, everyone, and stay safe.

Katie McDowell is the enterprise editor/lifestyles columnist for The Dominion Post. Email kmcdowell@dominionpost.com.