We're smack in the middle of the season of good tidings of joy.
At least that's the mass marketed message, because happy people probably shop more and spend more money.
The original good tidings, of course, really was the delivery of good news to shepherds in the fields:
"And the angel said to them, 'Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
'Glory to God in the highest,
'and on earth, peace,
'good will toward men.'"
With that kind of origin event, it's only natural many people embrace songs of "Joy to the World" and "O Come All Ye Faithful." For them, the music, the lights, the decorations and the promise of interacting with family and friends are all reasons to live a "Hallelujah" life.
The celebratory nature of the season, though, can make it hard for people to recognize there are those in our midst who struggle to find the festive spirit. And it's not just Christmastime. Rather, the changing weather patterns and the reduction of natural light from shorter days cause real sadness, even full-on depression, in people. It's been referred to for years as seasonal affective disorder.
But especially around the holidays, depression can be a factor. Sometimes the inability to feel the joy everyone else seems to have exacerbates one's descent into depression.
Sadness is as much a valid human emotion as happiness. It's part of our humanity. And there's no shame in feeling sadness.
It's important to realize though, that depression can go beyond just sadness. It can be a crippling attack from within one's own brain. Or there certainly may be external causes that contribute.
Listen, I know it's no fun to talk about sadness and depression during what seems to be a season that inspires joy. I just think it's important to recognize that the season doesn't automatically inoculate people from the effects of depression. It's important to be aware of people around us and how it appears they are feeling.
This is especially true for people for whom the holidays this year may be dramatically different than in years past. The spouse who is spending his or her first Christmas alone. The child who has been uprooted from familiar surroundings because of a parent's job relocation or perhaps divorce. A loved one who by necessity is in an assisted-living center, away from the home they've spent many Christmases in before.
In these cases, the holidays might just be the trigger of depression. A double helping of love and understanding, rather than questions about why they're not getting into the spirit of the season, can go a long, long way in not making their challenge even harder to overcome.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-TALK (8255). If you or someone you know is in an emotional or mental crisis, don't accept the fallacy that there is shame attached to reaching out for help.
Sometimes, the simple act of reaching out, of demonstrating kindness and concern, can work wonders and be the start of a person's recovery.
All of us are always looking for that perfect gift. Sure, a new shirt is nice. But the best kinds of gifts are those that make or enhance our human relationships. That includes looking out for each other all year round.
May your Christmas be meaningful.
Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Opinions expressed are those of the author.