For those who have lost loved ones, the holidays can be a hard time.
Wade Holcomb has a lot to be grateful for this year. In addition to graduating college and getting a job, he also has a beautiful 4-month-old girl — who will be celebrating her first Christmas with her dad clearly wrapped around her tiny fingers.
"It's different, having a baby. It's something to be really grateful for and she just makes me the happiest person in the world," said Holcomb, 22, of Swainsboro, Georgia. "She's literally the best thing ever."
Holcomb is among the 7 of 10 Americans who say "grateful" describes them extremely well or very well over the holidays, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Roughly another 2 in 10 said it describes them moderately well.
While positive feelings are dominant, feelings of festivity and gratitude are accompanied by stress or sadness for many Americans. About 3 in 10 say "stressed" describes them extremely well or very well in December, and about another 4 in 10 say it describes them moderately well.
About 2 in 10 say they feel very lonely or sad during the holidays, with about another 2 in 10 saying they feel moderately lonely or sad.
For those who feel grateful, being in good health and being surrounded by loving family members are top of mind. While Holcomb is thankful for the new life in his family, 76-year-old Steve Tutunjian of San Diego is grateful to be alive at all.
Tutunjian has been hospitalized three times in recent months for breathing issues, including an emergency trip to intensive care in recent weeks. That's where he was when he responded to the AP-NORC poll.
"For some godly reason, I am still here," he said. "Just recognizing you are alive, healthy and on the mend as I am — you can't help but be grateful."
Tutunjian also described himself as moderately stressed — because he's fallen behind in holiday planning — and sad. Like others who spoke to the AP, he's missing a loved one around the holidays. Tutunjian, a retired Naval commander, lost a son in 2009 to a combination of a prescription overdose and a bad reaction to multiple medications after outpatient eye surgery.
"You never forget that loss and emptiness in your heart, particularly during those times you previously celebrated with your loved ones. So it adds some sadness to it," he said of his son, who was also in the Navy. "On the other side, we reflect on the many good times we've had together ... It doesn't destroy the holiday spirit for us. It brings it home."
The poll also found that about 6 in 10 Americans say they have family traditions they are looking forward to this year, while just about 1 in 10 say they have some they are dreading.
Rocio Acosta, 31, of Lincoln, Nebraska, doesn't celebrate Christmas because she is a Seventh Day Adventist. But she still feels festive this time of year, because "everyone just seems to be a little bit nicer." Because she doesn't rush around buying gifts, she said she's able to just enjoy the atmosphere, pretty decorations and festivities.
She also has her own December traditions. Acosta, who is Mexican-American, gets together with her mother and two sisters to make tamales -- a daylong process involving cleaning the corn husks, then filling them with masa dough, chili peppers and shredded chicken. They also make Mexican cookies with almonds and powdered sugar and a non-alcoholic version of "ponche" -- a punch she described as similar to a warm sangria or tea. Sometimes her dad even pitches in.
"To me it's not a religious holiday. It's more of just, since everyone has the time off, we are able to get together," she said. "Everyone helps out and everyone is around the house. That's the kind of tradition that I'm looking forward to."
Melvin Ramsaran, 35, of Brooklyn, said there is one family tradition he dreads every year -- that post-dinner period when everyone is overstuffed, tired and has to sit around and listen to excruciatingly long family speeches as they fight to stay awake.
Ramsaran said nearly 60 people from his extended Indian family come to New York and gather in one house a couple days before Christmas. While Ramsaran said he feels grateful and festive, he also has mixed feelings — his father died last December, and the family drama surrounding his dad's estate has left him depressed and stressed out.
So this year, he said, he's going to stay home on his couch, even if it means missing out on days of Indian leftovers.
"It's KFC, wrestling and soda for me," he said.
The AP-NORC poll of 1,053 adults was conducted Dec. 5-9 using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods and later were interviewed online or by phone.
AP-NORC Center: http://www.apnorc.org/