The holiday season is a time many look forward to all year. Usually, it's a time for family gatherings and to practice long-held traditions. But the raging pandemic and crumbling economy have forced people of all ages to make difficult holiday choices, as the traditional season of joy now carries unexpected hardships and considerations.

Thomas Briggs can sense it. The 22 year old has sold Christmas trees at Wilson Farm in Lexington for the past six winters. He said he has noticed a depressing trend this season.

"A lot of the older folks we've had were moving down to small trees," Briggs said. "It's sad, but a lot of them didn't have the ability to see their kids or their grandkids and were a little less enthusiastic."

With millions out of work, money worries abound. At one point this year, Massachusetts had the highest unemployment rate in the country — more than 16 percent.

Christien Simpson of Worcester lost her job as a nurse’s aide this spring. The single mother of two said she’s struggling to cover her kids’ basic needs.

"I feel ashamed," Simpson said, "because they're supposed to depend on me to provide for them."

With no money for Christmas gifts, Simpson asked for help online. An actress with a major Instagram presence shared Simpson's post, and donations have been pouring in since. Simpson said she’s floored and grateful that strangers stepped up to help.

That inspiring community support she's experienced, Simpson said, stands in contrast to how the pandemic aid process has played out in Washington, with President Donald Trump this week threatening to veto the relief package passed by Congress.

"It's been a long, withdrawn thing," Simpson said. "They understand people need help. $600 relief? Thumbs up to them."

There's also little relief this holiday season for frontline workers, who've been grinding out long days and making sacrifices all year long.

Mass General Brigham RN Katelyn Sullivan had already been scheduled to work Christmas Eve when she saw that another shift needed to be filled on Christmas Day. She volunteered to take on the additional hours, even at the expense of time spent with family.

"It was just like my sister or my brother asked me for help," Sullivan said. "I wouldn't think twice."

Even small, joyful community traditions are on hold.

Nearly every December since 1991, Cambridge's Brattle Theatre has screened the Christmas classic "It's A Wonderful Life." Brattle Executive Director Ivy Moylan said she's heartbroken that the theater can't show the film this year, especially given the resonance of the movie's plot, about a town that bands together to help a friend in crisis.

"There are people who are like, 'I see this every year, and every year it makes me cry,'" said Moylan. "I think that's beautiful."

Like so many others this season, Moylan is improvising a way to bring people together. For a donation, the Brattle has been mailing out custom Bingo cards so those streaming the movie at home can track its most iconic moments.

And Moylan says she holds out hope that that next year's holidays will be much brighter.

"The parties that we are going to hold when the Brattle reopens — I think they're going to last a long time," she said.