If you're single, widowed or divorced, this most family-oriented, nostalgic season can be the loneliest time of the year.
You don't have to be alone and lonely, on the other hand, or spend this Christmas sniveling into your frozen turkey dinner and talking to your houseplants.
There are people all around you -- at work and at home -- who need you. Some will spend this season of celebration at local soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless; others will spend it in veterans' hospitals and children's hospitals and nursing homes.
A visit from you on Christmas Day -- or better yet, several visits from you throughout the next few weeks -- would brighten their lives, and yours, more than the power of words can tell.
As a newly widowed friend of mine, alone in New York City for the holidays, put it, "I have to put away my sadness and grief for a little while, or I'll never survive this first Christmas without my husband.
"I'm going to volunteer at a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve, then help cook and serve the turkey dinner my church always provides to people who wander in on Christmas Day.
"I've always said that the best way to get along when you're lost and lonely is to think about others," she added with a smile. "Now I'm going to get the chance to follow my own advice!"
Perhaps you could call your minister, priest or rabbi and offer to provide transportation to elderly and handicapped people who want to come to Christmas services.
Or you could call your nearest United Way office, YWCA, hospital and senior citizen center, volunteer services office or social services agency to ask how you can help during this holiday season.
You don't have to check with institutions to find people who need you, on the other hand. They're living next door to you and sitting next to you at work.
You could invite an elderly neighbor in for a cup of tea after work, perhaps, then listen to her troubles for a while instead of thinking about your own. You'd gladden her heart -- and yours.
Or you could invite your co-workers who also are single, divorced or widowed to come to your house for the holiday meal and bring their children. You'd have the chance to provide them -- and yourself -- with a warm, sharing time that they -- and you -- would remember always.
All you have to do is pick up the telephone right now and reach out to someone and you'll feel better almost immediately about this season of faith and peace and charity and tradition, and about yourself, as well.
Said a single business acquaintance of mine recently, when asked about her plans for Christmas: "I didn't want to fly home this year, but I didn't want to be alone, either.
"So I've invited 11 people from work and five of my apartment house neighbors -- all alone for the holidays, for one reason or another -- over for Christmas dinner.
"Two of my guests have volunteered to cook and bring turkeys; everyone else will bring a chair, a dish of some kind, their favorite tape or CD of Christmas music, one gag gift [we're going to draw names] and whatever they want to drink.
"We'll have a full house; it'll be crowded and noisy in my little apartment, and we'll have to make do with boards to make my table big enough. We'll probably end up with nine gallons of stuffing, more pumpkin pie than anyone can possibly eat, and forget six other things we really need," she said, chuckling.
"But these two things I know already: Everyone I've asked has accepted with such pleasure that I already feel better about my own situation -- and no one [including me] will have a chance to be lonely!"