There has never been a Christmas like this one. Never. 

Oh, there have been plenty of holidays in hard times. People have managed to celebrate the season in wartime, during economic recessions and depressions, in periods of scarcity where the simple act of eating was a day-to-day struggle. They have even welcomed Christmas in parts of the world as plague ravaged them.

But those were different times. In those ages, the people were united in their difficulties. If you were struggling, chances were good your neighbor was struggling as well. You wished him well and he wished the same for you and yours. 

During those holidays in hard times, the whole nation was more or less a big family wading through their common troubles and celebrating together in defiance of those woes. 

You see the difference, of course. This year, there is no unity, no sense of goodwill toward all mankind. The notion that “we’re all in this together?” A ghastly joke. There is no togetherness here. Any sense of it has been torn and tattered in a thousand different ways and what we’re left with is an orgy of division.

Merry Christmas. Here is a list of people who hate you today. 

Devotees of the face mask despise those who question its usefulness. The right suspects the left of election shenanigans and the left resents the accusation. 

Even those who have lived caring and compassionate lives are told by powerful political groups they are bigots. Haters. Racists who must find ways to publicly denounce their wicked ways. 

Some folks hear the accusations so many times they have come to believe them.

Maybe they ARE full of hate and just never came to realize it. Now those people, innocent of any true transgressions, are filled with guilt and self-loathing. And how do you like THAT loathsome package under your tree? 

Others go the opposite way. They despise the very suggestion they are bigots, yet they have heard the accusations so often, so loudly and from so many directions, they have come to resent the very people they are accused of hating. Nothing says “happy holidays” like a giant gift of grim irony. 

In previous Christmases, I would come here and try to remind people — and myself — how good we have it, and how thankful we should be. 

So, you did not get that pony, that new iPhone or that huge-screen television for Christmas. Boo-hoo and tsk-tsk, I would say. Chances are good you have a full stomach as you sit there bemoaning the things you do not have. You still have three square meals a day, a roof over your head and fast access to your loved ones, no matter where they are in the world. 

These should be the best of times, not the worst. 

But, how do you advise people to appreciate what they have in a year like this? What about the millions whose jobs vanished overnight when the coronavirus came? What about that small business owner who was finally starting to realize a profit when the state shut him or her down earlier this year?

How do you suggest to the 85-year-old woman she should be grateful for the marvels of modern medicine and the love of her family when the former has prevented her from so much as hugging the latter for nearly a year?

Merry Christmas. We kept you alive and all we ask is that you avoid all physical interaction with your kids and grandchildren until we flatten the curve, perfect the vaccines and get those numbers where we want them. 

I suppose we can all gather around the Christmas tree — being careful to remain 6 feet apart from one another, of course — and have a toast to the promise of better times. 

But is that a realistic idea over which to clink our glasses? Does 2021 have even a whiff of hope? 

We have fast-tracked vaccines being rolled out, yet we are being told they are not enough. You will still have to mask up. And keep your distance. 

And now we are being told the coronavirus has mutated and may come back bigger and badder than ever. Maybe Christmas is not such a grand idea, many of our fearless leaders have suggested. Best to skip it entirely.

Michigan’s governor has even enlisted the aid of a dime store Santa Claus to impress this grim idea upon the children of her state. Santa, it turns out, is a big fan of vaccines, face coverings and socially distant, good boys and girls. So now we have St. Nick himself, that avatar of peace, love and jolly good cheer, dragged into the political fray and used as a propaganda tool, lest anyone think he or she can put the fear out of their minds for even a minute for the holidays.

This year, the eggnog has gone bad, the Christmas tree lights have all burned out and the mistletoe over the door is poisonous. And I hope you will forgive me for feeling so gloomy, but, all in all, I’d rather be back in time with the Ingalls family, when they celebrated those hard Christmases on the prairie. Maybe all they had to eat on Christmas Day was some mashed turnips and weak soup. Maybe there was not enough firewood to chase away the bitter cold. And maybe there was nothing more than trifling trinkets to keep the children entertained. 

The Ingalls family saw tough times, no doubt, but they were not beset by a thousand political forces aimed at turning family against family. They were not induced to hate the guy who runs the apothecary because he insisted they wear cheesecloth over their faces. 

The Ingalls family did not have to contend with 24-hour news teams repeatedly telling them what terrible people they were and how ashamed they should be. 

Their time was difficult, unquestionably. But I doubt it was as complicated as the situation in which we find ourselves today. 

The Ingalls family could and WOULD escape their troubles through perseverance and hard work. But what do you tell all those people who WANT to work hard but cannot?

Merry Christmas, son. You’ve got to shut her down, but hey. You can still go to Walmart to shop. 

Bleak. I wish I had happier tidings to offer today, but I have a lump of coal where my Christmas spirit should be.  

Maybe tonight I will be visited by three ghosts who will reveal to me the real reasons for faith and optimism.  Maybe come Christmas Day, I will be dancing in the street in my pajamas and bed cap, completely under the spell of a vision of hope bestowed on me in dreams. 

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things,” Charles Dickens wrote in that Christmas classic, “that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” 

Well then, laugh away, my friends and neighbors. May you be contagious only in the good ways this Christmas, and if that is to be, may I catch whatever it is you’ve got. 

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