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COMMENTARY: The gift of Christmas cheer

I’m not feeling it this year. I’m just not feeling the Christmas spirit of any kind, and I know, for the benefit of others, I need to get out of my slump.

Christmas cheer is a real thing.

A variety of studies have found that we actually do become more cheerful — at least most of us do — during the most giving time of the year.

Insider cites a study in Denmark in which brain scans were conducted of people looking at images of colorful Christmas decorations.

“The front of the brain lit up for those who celebrated Christmas as the holiday images flashed before their eyes, showing that there is a ‘holiday spirit network’ in the brain,” Insider reports.

I certainly have long had a strong holiday spirit network inside my brain thanks to my mother.

She worked hard to make Christmas as fun and enriching as it could be.

She was a master at building up suspense about the surprises that awaited us Christmas morning.

And even during some of our most challenging years as a family, when Thanksgiving concluded, her Christmas switch went on and she loved nothing more than decorating the house, holiday records playing as she whistled beautifully to the music.

My mother was always at her happiest during the Christmas season, and her joy was infectious.

We took her good cheer for granted as children. But I know now that she loved Christmas so much because it gave her an opportunity to articulate and cultivate her love for her family.

That’s why the happy memories of my childhood Christmases hold such incredible power over me now — and why I know I must overcome my lack of Christmas spirit this year.

I know it’s my duty to be more cheerful toward others, so that my little bit of good cheer may spread and grow — because I was blessed with such an abundance of it for so long.

Cheerfulness, just like rudeness and incivility, is infectious, which is probably why Christmas cheer motivates us to give more to charities than we normally do.

During the Christmas season last year, despite a rocky economic year, Americans donated a record amount of money.

Charitable donations are expected to be down slightly this year because of high inflation rates and other financial challenges, but the Christmas spirit continues to fuel our incredible generosity.

With my father’s recent death, it has been a particularly rough year for my family. All of us are struggling to embrace the spirit of Christmas — including my mother.

I know from experience that the only way out of a slump in Christmas cheer is to simply give.

That includes doing something, anything, positive and upbeat to help others who are facing their own physical, financial and spiritual struggles.

There is no shortage of people who need some extra Christmas cheer this year.

Many of our troops are away from their families — or dealing with debilitating injuries — and we can support them.

Our neighbors may be out of work or struggling to make ends meet in our difficult economy, and we can support them, too.

Elderly neighbors may be isolated and lonely inside — they will cherish some company and regular check-ins to make sure they are doing OK.

I pray that I do better at spreading the spirit of Christmas — and that all of us make good use of the wonderful and very real gift of Christmas cheer.

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.

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