The Christmas season is filled with messages of good cheer. Many people are wrapping and opening presents, many families are gathering, and outdoor lights are brightening many homes.

This season is a time of joy and hope. The angels sang of peace on earth. (We certainly need this hope, since our earth is a long way from peace.)

The Christmas season, however, is depressing for many people. Christmas comes soon after the winter solstice, when the days are short and nights are long.

Christians who long ago set the time to celebrate Christ’s birth chose a date near the end of December in part to counter the gloom of winter’s long nights with a message of light and cheer.

For many today, though, the Christmas season doesn’t seem bright. This is especially true for those who are isolated, who recently lost a loved one or who are without adequate food and shelter.

For people who live alone and don’t have family nearby, their isolation is intensified. Their loneliness is magnified, especially the elderly who live alone.

Anyone who has experienced the death of someone close during the past year also feels sad at Christmas. Regardless of what family and friends try to do to help, a person who has felt this loss finds it hard to get into the Christmas spirit. It’s just not the same without the person who for many years shared their joy.

For parents whose budget is so tight they can’t afford to give their kids Christmas presents, this is also a discouraging time. While advertisements display a slew of toys and clothes available for children, these parents know their kids won’t be getting very much this year.

And for families or individuals who are worried about having enough food or a place to stay, including the homeless or near homeless, the Christmas season is full of uncertainty and anxiety.

Homeless persons who choose to live on the street, back alleys or empty lots must feel, deep down, a desire to live under a roof. But that thought seems to be buried deep within them. I’m sure they feel some sense of abandonment during the holidays.

For persons who don’t want to live on the streets but are forced to live in tents or cars, this season must be exasperating. Fortunately, there are caring people on the Westside–including pastors, police officers and social workers—who have done much to help these unsheltered persons. Project Roomkey, a recent program in Los Banos, is one example.

Throughout California there are reports of increasing evictions of individuals and families at a time when places to rent are either very limited or overpriced. Families facing eviction at this time must certainly feel anxious and depressed.

Joseph and Mary, in the scriptural Christmas story, must have felt this anxiety. Entering Bethlehem, they soon realized there was no shelter for them, until they found a barn (not much of a shelter for a woman about to give birth). And when the baby was born, the only creatures around were animals.

All this anxiety, discouragement and depression reminds us not to forget during this Christmas season those who are in need—of shelter, food, clothing, toys or encouragement. This is also a time to be grateful for the many people in our community who provide some light and hope for those in physical, psychological or spiritual darkness.

This includes the many people who are coordinating Angel Trees, including Toni Huarte. Service organizations and churches have set up these trees around town to provide Christmas toys and clothes for kids who otherwise might not receive many gifts.

Thanks also goes to the Salvation Army and the many volunteer bell ringers who have raised money to help those most in need. The Salvation Army has been doing this for decades, and we’re fortunate on the Westside to have an army of good people continue to do this.

Many other persons, businesses and organizations on the Westside have also done much to gather food, stock pantries and distribute food to those in need, including the Los Banos Rotary “Feed the Need” project and the Knights of Columbus at St. Joseph’s Church in Los Banos.

During this Christmas season, particular thanks go to the members of the Kiwanis Club of Los Banos and their supporters, who, for the 39th consecutive year, will be providing a free Christmas dinner on Dec. 24.

This year, Fire Station #1 in Los Banos (333 Seventh St.) will open its doors on Christmas Eve day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to any and all who would like a hot Christmas meal.

These good works are reminders for all of us to remember to reach out to someone who might be feeling isolated, depressed or sad this Christmas season. Even a short note, a quick call or a brief visit could help.

Extending a little hope and encouragement might be the best way to spread, and feel, the genuine Christmas spirit.