The Christmas tree is set up in my living room. I found it in the garage and put it together last Friday, positioning it in front of the windows.

The lights are on. It’s a prelit tree, thank goodness. I never liked putting lights on a Christmas tree.

No ornaments are on it yet. That requires more energy than I can muster right now, and more time than I want to devote to digging them out. I’m not sure where they are, to tell you the truth. Probably in the garage, on a shelf at the far side, past the pressure canner, an area rug rolled up until I clear enough space in the den to put it back down, a rocking chair that once belonged to my favorite aunt, and boxes of cloth and clutter. Perhaps the ornament boxes are just beyond a boat motor that somehow ended up in there, although I’m sure the boat it once propelled is long gone and forgotten.

I will find them in a day or two. The special ornaments will come out of storage and be on display again. These are my children’s “first Christmas” ornaments that my mother gave them plus others I handmade for each of us through the years. There are also the ones the children made when they were small, and some given to me by friends. They haven’t been out in about four or five years, and neither has the tall tree. Instead, I opted to set a small tree on the end table and put only a handful of ornaments on it. I wouldn’t have done even that much if family and friends hadn’t persuaded me.

You see, for me — as for so many others — the time between Thanksgiving and about the middle of January is not a joyful time. It’s a time to endure, a time that brings grief and losses and the lack of peace on Earth to the forefront more so than any other season of the year; it’s a time when all the activity saps my energy and causes me to withdraw into myself. It’s also time to get coping strategies in place so the seasonal depression, no matter what brings it on, can be kept under control.

In my head and my heart, I know the true meaning of the season is to celebrate the birth of a Savior, and I do. My way is more subdued. I give to charities that help the hungry — Empty Pantry Fund is my favorite — and those that serve children. I watch the movies that bring in the spiritual aspects, such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and any incarnation of “A Christmas Carol.” I listen to the hymns of Christmas. I seek out Scriptures to fill my mind with the glad tiding of great joy. These rituals help me focus on the best of the season.

I’ve learned to back away from what causes the most stress. Shopping and being in crowds make me want to crawl out of my skin, so I either shop online or give my grandchildren money so they can buy what they really would like. If they get money, I’ll have something small for them to actually open — often it’s a book I think they’ll like. My family and I decided years ago to give to charity rather than buy gifts for the adult members of the family, but I’ll make gifts, sometimes, such as jellies, scrapbooks, caramel corn, Christmas ornaments. That keeps the giving spirit alive and well and also keeps my sanity intact.

If you are having a difficult time during the holidays, the resources I’ve found suggest doing this: Acknowledge your feelings, because you can’t force yourself to be holly and jolly just because it’s the holidays. Reach out to others so you don’t let yourself get too lonely — volunteer in some way that touches your heart or attend activities at church or other venues with friends, for example. Set a budget and stick to it. Have simple and realist expectations; there is no such thing as the “perfect Christmas.” Learn to say “no.” Take care of your body by eating healthy foods along with the special treats and make sure you get lots of sleep and rest. Take a time out when you need solitude. If you find yourself feeling so depressed, sad and hopeless that you find it difficult to function, see your doctor or a mental health professional. There is no shame in that.

A Christmas tree is standing in front of my living room window with its lights reflecting in the glass. With a little luck and a little time, it will have ornaments on it in a day or two.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Contact Linda Braden Albert with story ideas at LindasInkyFingers@

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