When I was in college, I stopped liking Thanksgiving.

Growing up, the holiday represented time off school to spend with my family. We watched the Macy’s parade, played our annual game of Monopoly and pigged out on a delicious spread of turkey, mashed potatoes and homemade rolls. After pie, we could officially start decorating for Christmas.

When I chose to go to college hundreds of miles away, things changed. Plane tickets were expensive and I didn’t own a car, not to mention the roads between Utah and Oregon can be pretty sketchy in late November. So I stayed at school.

It was always my most homesick week of the year.

The first year, my aunt and uncle were visiting cousins who lived in town, and they graciously adopted me for the long weekend, but it was still difficult knowing that my parents and all of my siblings were together, celebrating our first major holiday apart.

The next year I didn’t even have extended family in town, and I spent the break from classes on duty as a resident assistant in the mostly-empty freshman dorms.

Since then I’ve come to enjoy Thanksgiving again, but my time in college has helped me remember that for some people, the holidays are not a joyous time of year.

Some are temporarily separated from their loved ones by college, incarceration or military deployments. For others, the holidays make a lack of family painfully obvious. Some cry over the Christmas presents they wish they could give their children but have no money for. Others are surrounded by family but feel dead inside as they grapple with grief, postpartum depression, abuse or physical pain.

Members of our community have stepped up to help people who struggle during the holiday season, from delivering gifts through Christmas Express to offering free community fellowship meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Instead of arguing over whether to wish each other a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” this year, let’s all put that effort into actions that help make either sentiment true.

If you’re blessed with people to share a holiday meal with, look around your church congregation or workplace to see who might be grateful for an invitation to join you. Think outside the box — you might be traveling on the actual holiday but maybe you know someone living alone who would enjoy the opportunity to help bake Christmas cookies or go see a concert.

If you’re blessed with enough money for an abundance of gifts for family members, budget to buy items to donate to a local giving tree or a program like Good Shepherd Health Care System’s 12 Days of Giving.

If you’re blessed with a family to create holiday traditions with, consider traditions that spread happiness outside your family, such as delivering plates of goodies to neighbors or caroling at a nursing home.

If you’re blessed with friends, ask for their address and send them a handwritten Christmas card, or even just a nice text message telling them how much they mean to you.

And if the holidays are a really hard time of year for you, take care of yourself. Don’t be too proud to accept an invitation or gift that will help. Know when to say “no” or “not this year,” even if it means going against tradition.

Volunteer. Treat yourself. Exercise. Get some sun. Work extra shifts to keep yourself occupied. If spending the holidays visiting family actually makes you feel worse, not better, tell them you’re not going to be able to make it this year. Only you know what will be best for your own mental health this time of year.

Here’s to a happy ... whatever it is you’re doing this time of year.

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