When those who manage to live through this terrible pandemic look back on Christmas 2020, they might well ask themselves: "Was it really Christmas at all?"
Or will they say to themselves: "Those were tough times, but the fierce challenges we all faced have helped us to reflect on the true values of Christmas and our human relationships, and this gave us the courage and strength to face whatever the future might bring"?
In so many ways, 2020 has been a horrendous year. Multitudes of people have died, or have suffered from some of the worst aspects of Covid-19; families have been left bereft and in too many homes there will be empty chairs at the Christmas dinner table.
Countless business people, who have worked so hard to overcome the huge economic challenges of the pandemic, may no longer have a business to run, or face the possibility of ultimate bankruptcy.
Millions of workers have lost their jobs and many have little or no prospect of securing new ones. Children have had their education interrupted at vital stages in their lives and families are struggling emotionally to cope with the hurt of being unable to meet and to hug loved ones.
Instead of being able to make up for this at Christmas, by sharing meals and hospitality, we are being advised to meet each other as little as possible and to curtail our time spent together. On top of all this, we face another draconian lockdown, which could last for up to six weeks.
We are living through a local and worldwide nightmare in our public health and family, personal, professional and social lives and it will take a long time for sociologists and other experts to assess the damage that has been done.
Since March this year, we have been buffeted by the statistics of deaths and the frightening spread of the pandemic, almost to the point when we can no longer take in the enormity of the figures.
Sometimes, however, it is something specific that rocks us back on our heels.
This includes, for example, the revelation that 17 ambulances were parked outside Antrim Area Hospital recently, with patients kept inside for up to 12 hours because there were no beds available.
The New York Times also reported that more people died in the USA on one day from Covid-related illnesses than the total of those who perished in the murderous attacks of 9/11.
Given so much bad news, it would be humanly tempting to write off this Christmas as just another part of the darkness of the pandemic which has hung over us as a grim shadow for so long, but there is another side to the story.
Human beings are remarkably resilient in the worst of times as they look for the light of better days.
This year, there have been increases in the sale of Christmas trees, decorations and lights and this is a sign that people are determined to brighten up their homes and streets as much as possible.
In my own residential avenue in north Belfast, my neighbours are displaying more lights in their homes and gardens than I can ever remember.
My own back garden overlooks the Cave Hill and I have put up so many Christmas lights that I could provide a landing-pad for the rescue helicopter that often hovers over this area of the city.
The shoppers were still busying our streets in the run-up to Christmas, though excessively and wrongly so in places like the Abbey Centre.
This surge to shop also showed how much people want to buy presents for their loved ones, come what may, although many Christmas presents were kindly satirised by the former Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, who wrote in his famous poem, Christmas, about:
Loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant.
This family love is also portrayed - in some cases agonisingly so - by the pictures of relatives gazing tearfully at their elderly parents through the windows of care homes, without being able to kiss or touch.
This love has been given a new dimension by the many younger and older people who have chosen deliberately not to meet for Christmas dinner in case they bring infections which could lead to death.
As one lady said on television, "You don't appreciate what you have until you don't have it anymore."
This Christmas, with so many social events cancelled, has given many people more time to reflect on the deeper meaning of the season, which, in the words of one man, should give you a "renewed appreciation for what is actually important".
Instead of chasing my tail going to drinks receptions, or coffee mornings, or Christmas lunches, I have made the time for long conversations by telephone, or through email, with family members and old friends whom I cherish.
There is also time to reflect and to give thanks for the dedication and skills of key NHS and care workers and their thoughtfulness.
Recently, I had to go to the Royal Victoria Hospital's A&E department for an urgent check about a relatively sudden non-Covid condition, which, if not properly diagnosed or treated, could have become life-threatening.
I was given the all-clear, to my relief, and I am grateful for the professionalism and the respect and kindness shown to me by doctors, nurses and radiographers.
I understand why some people are apprehensive about entering a hospital in the middle of a dangerous pandemic, but it is vital to go for a check-up if you are strongly advised to do so by your GP.
It is also important at this time to give thanks for the efforts of other key workers, like transport drivers, refuse collectors and the staff of supermarkets and take-away establishments, who help to keep our lives as normal as possible and are not always appreciated for what they do.
As we approach Christmas and the New Year, there are no easy answers and very tough times undoubtedly lie ahead; but the essential theme of Christmas is one of goodwill to each other and, above all, of hope.
This timeless message, for believers and non-believers alike, was underlined superbly by St John, who wrote in the New Testament some 2,000 years ago: "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."
At Christmas, the same light shines on in the prevailing darkness and we should all keep that message in our heads and close to our hearts as we face with courage and determination the year 2021 and whatever lies ahead.
Alf McCreary is the Belfast Telegraph's religion correspondent