If you're not feeling quite ready for the holidays, if the festive mood hasn't grabbed you, don't worry. You're not alone.
From the national news to Island headlines, troubling events may be taking a collective bite out of the holiday spirit.
"For the most part, people are doing as always - buying presents and putting out cards. But they're finding it harder to get going this year," said the Rev. Donnel O'Flynn, rector at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven. "People aren't sure they want to put in the same amount of effort. They feel a little guilty to be celebrating while the war is going on.
"People are holing up mentally," he continued. "They're not as willing to travel, charitable giving is down. There's a sense that people want to hunker down a bit and not be as exposed. People are hanging in there, but they're a little tenser than usual."
Even Tim Clark, who presides over Vineyard Haven's famous alley of Christmas trees alongside the Capawock Theatre, acknowledged that in his view, some folks are struggling to weather the times.
"People are always in good spirits when they come to me," he said, but last weekend's fire at the Tisbury Inn has become "our own little tragedy," coloring people's moods.
"I was talking to a lady whose daughter has Down Syndrome. Her daughter goes [to the inn's health club] every day for swimming," he said. "I felt so bad."
But Mr. Clark also touched on the one thing that therapists and clergy had all noted when asked to comment on the emotional tenor of the Island as this holiday season kicks into gear. After the tragedy of Sept. 11, people are all the more thankful for their own families. "We're very lucky here," Mr. Clark said.
"I think people are taking a new inventory of their lives and what's important," said Tom Bennett, the director of Island Counseling at Martha's Vineyard Community Services. "Family, friends and community are high up there on the priority list."
The terror attacks, the anthrax deaths and the war on the other side of the globe, he said, have shifted people's focus from materialism and onto relationships. "There's a new perspective we all have on how precious life is and how suddenly it can be taken away," said Mr. Bennett.
Psychiatrist Charles Silberstein drove home a similar point.
"The more interesting phenomenon post-Sept. 11, post Tisbury Inn fire, is how a kind of love comes out, how people seem to be tolerating and trusting intimacy with other people in a way I don't think we were all doing before," said Dr. Silberstein. "There's less focus on money, envy, getting more than the other guy. I haven't heard anybody talk about the crash of the stock market. Suddenly money is less important."
Christmas in particular is not an easy time for some people even in a good year, according to the psychiatrist. "There's something called a stress scale, and Christmas is right up there at the top of the top 10," he said.
But the irony is that the stress of the fall may have inured some people to the traditional stress of the holidays. "It's been a chronic thing since the fall. I know there are people who aren't sleeping as well, people who are more depressed," said Dr. Silberstein. "But if anything, people seem a little less stressed now."
The events and the aftermath of Sept. 11, he said, have forced many to realign their priorities.
Indeed, Charles Braun, guidance counselor at the Tisbury School, credits the stalwartness of adults on the Island with helping make sure that all of the gloom doesn't trickle down to the children.
"Kids are pretty happy," he said. "The teachers were remarkably great at keeping a stiff upper lip, and the adults are doing a good job of keeping it together."
But adults can find themselves faltering under the pressure, and faced with expectations to make the holiday experience live up to television standards, they could try cutting themselves some slack. At least that's how Mr. O'Flynn sees it.
"I try to hold up values that get you through it all, to compare this time to different times in history, the light coming out of the dark," he said.
One antidote to the holiday doldrums, he said, is charitable giving, and not just to the church, but to any cause.
"Everyone in a position of spiritual leadership is trying to address this," he said. "It really has been a very odd time psychologically, and there's no getting around it. The events have played chords in our psyche we've never had before. If people are doing okay, it's a testament to their resilience, if not just surprising."