Spare a thought for those less fortunate this festive season
We often imagine that those who are constantly in the public eye have gilded lives untouched by the everyday sorrows or hardships experienced by the populace at large. So it seems all the more shocking when they experience tragedy as in the case this week of Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery.
The death of her fiancé John Dineen at the age of 34, apparently from an aggressive cancer, came as something of a bolt from the blue, for the couple had a relatively low-key romance with little revealed about their private lives.
Michelle, who had cut short a promotional tour in the US to be with John during his last days, has behaved with great dignity and style during what is the most traumatic episode in her life, keeping her thoughts and emotions to herself unlike so many celebrities who want to share every intimate moment of their lives with the public.
In a way her experience is emblematic of what so many people go through at this time of year. It is nominally the festive season, celebrating a birth which is central to Christianity, but in reality a time so often tinged with sadness.
How many homes are this year remembering loved ones who have died in the past year, forever leaving a vacant place at the table on Christmas Day. How many of those deaths were of young people, like the two Northern Ireland men killed recently in Australia or who died on our roads or in other accidents.
Those of us fortunate enough to be spared the worst that fate can throw at us should spare a thought for the families whose grief we will never know but who will be left with an aching void in their hearts that time may ease but never erase.
And we should also think of the unfortunate people among us who will have no family to share their lives with, like those we feature today who live rough on the streets of our towns and cities or who rely on charity and the goodwill of the organisations who run hostels and who provide a little comfort for people in the direst of need.
At a time when we splurge out on all manner of gifts and indulgence with scarcely a thought to the cost, perhaps we should set something aside to help those for whom even a little kindness is a gift worth having.
Churches, charities and, of course, that annual prick to our conscience, Belfast's Black Santa, are deserving of whatever we can afford so that they can bring the true message of Christianity - helping others - to those for whom Christmas is just another day of little hope in a year where getting by is the highest aspiration.
It is often said that giving brings it own reward and there cannot be any greater feeling at this time of year than to know that you can really make a difference to someone else's life. Drop in to see a neighbour who lives alone, donate to charity or Black Santa who dispenses his takings to a range of charities or just remember those whose lives have been touched by tragedy or lost dreams.