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It was Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours from Christmas morn, and the woman was shopping just to shop.

"It's a tradition," she told the store owner. "I've already bought everything I need to buy. I just like getting out among all the people who are going crazy to fill out their lists. Besides, after almost two years of COVID, I feel like we all need to feel Christmas more than ever this year."

Feel Christmas. What a powerful thought. What a double-edged sword. There's a reason why the holidays bring on a rise in depression known as "holiday blues." It's almost always stressful. It sometimes brings about painful memories of loved ones lost, or a love who dumped you. And because we so often wrongly seek a perfect Christmas, we're almost always disappointed in reality.

This is where it might help to think of your life in terms of the Christmas classic "It's A Wonderful Life," because no matter how unhappy you are at times, your world, certainly the people in your personal world, would almost all say they are happier within your universe than without you.

So here's hoping you all felt Christmas exactly the way you wanted to this year. Your presents were just what you wanted. The gifts you gave to others were just what they wanted. The food and drink never tasted better. If you were in church, "Silent Night" never moved you more. And if you were with relatives, everyone got along.

And, yes, most of us who celebrate Christmas almost certainly needed it to be what we wanted it to be, what we remember our best Christmases to be, now more than ever, because not much has been what we wanted it to be in every facet of our lives since COVID-19 first arrived two years ago.

It was a little more than 13 months ago that pop singer Ben Rector released "The Thanksgiving Song" with the final stanza of "'We made it through, I do believe, the longest year in history. Thank God that it's Thanksgiving Day."

Only now it's been two Thanksgivings. And two Christmases. And about to be be two New Years as we nervously, wearily await the two-year March anniversary of when an old and comfortable normal was booted out by a newly stressful and polarizing normal with the declaration of a pandemic.

As that virus and our responses to it seem to endlessly mutate, you wonder if the longest year in history isn't on its way to being the longest decade in history, if not the longest century.

Yet however glum the present often seems and however nervously we await the future, we've also taken baby steps toward recovery. Retail sales are up. Gas prices are finally coming down. Unemployment is stunningly low in the wake of the pandemic.

If it's a not a completely wonderful life, it certainly seems far more wonderful for many of us than last Christmas. Then again, if you were one of the many thousands of folks in western Kentucky who had most of your life's possessions blown away in a second — and more more than 70 Kentuckians alone had their lives snuffed out by a monster tornado a couple of weeks ago — maybe you can't look at life that way.

And if you're looking to sports to momentarily take away your troubles, the omicron variant is suddenly causing team sports at all levels the same headaches as a year ago, if not more so. When you could technically win the College Football Playoff by simply having your semifinal and final opponent forced to forfeit over COVID-19 protocols, you know we still seem to be a bit far away from beating this thing.

Yet whenever you think everything is headed in the wrong direction, let me tell you a story about a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball player.

In the late 1980s, while a Mocs basketball beat writer for the Chattanooga News-Free Press, I got the bright idea to ask the players what they wanted for Christmas.

One young man replied as follows: "I don't have Christmas this year. It's my sister's turn. My mom doesn't have enough to give us both nice presents on the same year, so we alternate. This is her year to get gifts."

My stomach dropped. My heart ached. I had never heard such a story, but I have heard too many similar stories since.

Yet a few years ago I ran into one of that player's teammates. I asked how he was doing. I was told he had a good job, a wife and kids, the circle of poverty had been broken, so to speak. I'm guessing all his children have Christmas every year.

Sometimes you're handed a wonderful life during Christmas. Sometimes you have to create one on your own to fully feel the joy of Christmas rather than being overcome by the holiday blues.

Either way, if you felt Christmas in a good way this year more than last, that's a pretty wonderful way to welcome in 2022.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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