Staff file photo by Doug Strickland / An ornament on a Christmas tree on Signal Mountain in 2015.

It is Christmas 2021, and it feels different this year. Lonelier — probably because for the second year in a row there's been far less socializing. But it also feels a bit more resilient and sturdy in spirit — probably because for the second year in a row we've had to make it so.

Christmas is more than a special season and special day. It and its eve have always been not just my favorite holidays, but also my favorite days. Period.

I believe that's true for many of us, whether we call it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan or something else. It's in our hearts and in our spirits. It is us and we are it. It is that one time a year when most of us give in to sentimental memory and an awesome faith that there really is or will be peace on Earth. Somewhere. Some day — if we have the determination to make it so.

Sure, we often get caught up in the retail glitz, but that's another thing different about the second consecutive year of less socializing and less shopping anywhere but on a computer screen: It seems more real than ever that the best gift always is our lives and the lives of those we love.

With 5.3 million lives (that we know of) snuffed out by the COVID-19 pandemic around the globe — more than 812,000 in the U.S. alone — suffice it to say: All we want for Christmas is for you to get a shot.

Well, no. That's not all we want. The one thing Christmas offers us is the lesson and understanding of love. When we genuinely love and hold one another in our hearts, simply declaring that love — for each other, our world and ourselves — is far more eloquent than any other gift we could give or receive. All any of us really want is to love and know we are loved. So voice and share that love.

That lesson and understanding of love is another reason I love this holiday and the Charles Dickens' story of cranky old Scrooge. Even hardhearted and stingy Ebenezer, who embodies our hateful, shattered world, in one Christmas Eve night is made whole by realization, repentance and love.

I think we all want to believe in a world that lives up to the purity of love and good will — a world that accepts Santas of any color, a world that understands the faith we harbor in our hearts, no matter its flavor, is neither superior nor inferior.

This is a season that pays homage to common humanity and spirit — a feeling of oneness and reverence; a time of family, friends, laughter and good food; an opportunity to reflect, rejoice, seek solace, find redemption, enjoy companionship, give love and feel loved.

That may be what's been hardest about this and last Christmas. With about 52,000 empty chairs around our Tennessee and Georgia holiday tables — and fears of more — too many of us didn't share the usual time of family, friends and companionship.

But this also is where the season's message of eternal hope comes back into play. We don't have to share this love and goodwill just once a year. It can be a promise we make with ourselves today, tomorrow and every day.

I take heart from the lyrics of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane at another dark time nearly 80 years ago as World War II dragged on.

You'll recognize the last verse Judy Garland sang, for sure.

Someday soon we all will be together

If the fates allow

Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Eid, Feliz Navidad, Seasons Greetings, Good Cheer. Peace on Earth. Good will to all.