Do you love Christmas? A lot of people do. But for some, it can be an unhappy time, reminding them of loneliness, or losses, or an unhappy past. If that describes you, there's no reason to feel ashamed just because the rest of the world is entranced by the magic of the holidays and you don't feel like celebrating. And if you're the sort of Christmas-loving person who dons a Santa hat on the day after Thanksgiving, consider how others might be feeling before you go around humming "It's the most wonderful time of the year."

I got to thinking about this recently when a friend described getting asked the same perplexing question every year: "What is your favorite Christmas memory." His father was an alcoholic and verbally abusive. As you know if you've ever lived with an alcoholic or struggled with the addiction yourself, things get worse, not better, around holiday time with its cocktail parties, cheery toasts, and spiked egg nog. Children of abusive parents, "don't have favorite Christmas memories," my friend explained. "We have vivid Christmas memories, but that's not the same thing."

His comment made me realize the blithe way so many of us holiday-loving types (which includes me most of the time) can be intent on imbuing others with our holiday cheer. But even though we tend to think of those two things as inseparably linked, in fact, the holidays and cheer don't necessarily have to go together. Even Ebeneezer Scrooge, who learned the importance of Christmas from three ghosts during the long night of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" really learned the more important lesson of how to be a better employer and a kindlier human being all 365 days of the year. Holiday time may seem like the perfect time to make donations and plan parties and give gifts and be nice to other people, but really we should do these things all the time and not just during the holiday season. Meantime, we have to stop assuming that everyone loves Christmas time--or worse, trying to get them to love it, whether they want to or not.

And if you're someone who doesn't like the holidays or if you have bad memories or associations with it, don't ever feel ashamed or embarrassed for not seeing Christmas as a jolly time. You're perfectly entitled to tell your friends and co-workers that--no--you don't "just love this time of year." You're allowed to switch your car radio away from the endless Christmas carols, turn down invitations to parties, make charitable donations in lieu of shopping for holiday presents, or even skip exchanging gifts altogether. None of this makes you a Grinch. It just makes you someone who has the good sense to take care of yourself during what can be a trying time. (Here are some more suggestions for things to do if you hate the holidays.)

To me, the most important thing about the holiday season is that it's an opportunity to connect with each other. We visit relatives we might not have seen in a while (or they visit us). We share meals. We thank our employees for their hard work over the past year. We send notes and cards to people we haven't seen in a while. It's those connections that make us human. And, whether we love the holidays or hate them, it's those connections that count.