I know the song says it’s the “most wonderful time of the year,” but for a lot of us Christmas can be the most stressful time of the year.

The tradition-rich expectation to buy each other stuff can put strain on already stretched family budgets. On the other hand, the holiday shopping season has grown into a crutch upon which businesses, large and small, have grown dependent.

In Gunnison, it’s the one month where local patrons give retailers a life-saving shot of sustenance (i.e., cash to keep the lights on) to help them survive until next summer’s tourism season kicks back in.

This puts a lot of pressure on those businesses to meet sales projections. Factor in that it is a holiday season, where college students (who comprise a key component of the local workforce) head home for break, leaving our small business owners short-handed, scrambling to cover shifts or trying to shoulder more of a workload themselves — at a time when they too would love to be slowing down personally, spending time with family and friends and recharging the batteries rather than trying to eke out more work with fewer resources.

Holidays are notoriously difficult for individuals and families who have recently lost loved ones. The first Christmas without grandma, or a longtime spouse, can be incredibly sad and emotionally taxing.

Don’t get me wrong: Christmas is, after all, a religious holiday, and that’s what it’s supposed to be all about. Also, holidays are supposed to be, and can be, uplifting, relaxing and fun.

I don’t mean to dwell on the negative. It’s just that I know the stress level can be turned up a notch or two this time of year. The fact that we haven’t had a lick of snow yet — hopefully by the time you are seeing this our dry weather pattern has changed — is adding to the tension.

I feel it. And I know others do too.

Which is why I’m trying extra hard to appreciate the small things in life right now. Kindness. Relationships. The simple beauty of our surroundings. The simple pleasures of everyday life.

If you’ll indulge me, here are a couple such examples:

• The other day while hitting the streets on work errands, I lost one of our office’s bank bags. As usual, it was void of cash (story of my life, right?), but it did contain a fairly important set of keys.

I retraced my steps, twice, to no avail. The bag was nowhere to be found and it was bothering me.

While this certainly was not a major crisis, it was just one more thing to add to the aforementioned list of one more things.

Tuesday morning, first thing, I get a call from Chris Alton from the Paper Clip. He had the bag. Seems I had dropped it on the sidewalk in front of their store. Someone — I don’t know who, but my sincere appreciation goes out to whoever you are — had picked it up and turned it in.

• For the past few years I’ve been a semi-regular member of what we call the “Old Man Hoops League.” Pretty selfexplanatory title. It’s a group of us mostly over-40-year-olds (some, I won’t name names professor, over 50) who get together at the Community Center to play basketball because we love the sport, we crave the exercise and we’ve grown to relish the camaraderie.

T. Riser has been the unofficial David Stern, the commissioner, of this “league.” He’s largely responsible for getting it going in the first place. He bought us jerseys one year, goofy basketballnet hats another.

T. has been absent from noon ball lately. He had surgery to repair a shoulder, another to clean up a knee. I hadn’t seen him in months.

On Monday he comes into the gym, wearing his Old Man jersey but walking with a crutch and with an arm in a sling. He obviously wasn’t there to play.

Instead, he handed out a proclamation from the league office. He knew he’d miss playing, but he let us know that he’s missed getting together with the guys even more than he imagined. He invited us all to lunch, on him, just to spread a little cheer amongst a group whose paths would likely rarely, if ever, cross were it not for noon hoops.

I know he’s going to want to kill me for mentioning this in the paper. But thank you, T. You helped me feel more of the spirit, and less of the stress, of the holiday season.

(Chris Dickey can be reached at 970.641.1414 or publisher@ .)