Viewpoint: Why there's no place like home
With Christmas almost here, final preparations are being made in homes across Northern Ireland for the big day. And as ever, one of the most joyous aspects of the occasion will be the reunions with friends and family, in some cases for the first time in a year.
In Northern Ireland, Christmas is usually given a special buzz by the annual influx of expatriates and students. Airports and ferry terminals were thronged over the weekend as Ulster people resident elsewhere beat a path for home.
The expatriates will find a province in which life has changed immeasurably during 2007. The power-sharing administration at Stormont has produced an impressive degree of stability.
Although problems still exist in this polarised community, the rapport established between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness is having a trickledown effect at all levels.
The fact of the matter is that the quality of life in Northern Ireland has improved. Belfast now plays host regularly to major concerts, and social life is vibrant. Tourism is a year-round business, as evidenced by the new hotels and restaurants.
That said, the economy faces challenges, the biggest being the need to grow the private sector and reduce dependence on the taxpayer. With this in mind, the Stormont Executive is cranking up the search for fresh investment.
While a cut in corporation tax has yet to be achieved, Northern Ireland still has a strong hand to play. Among the plus points are a skilled labour force, infrastructure and a work ethic.
The untapped potential in the private sector creates job opportunities and openings. And as those who are back home for a few days absorb all the changes, the hope is they might be tempted to come back permanently.
That is the motivating factor for the "No Place Like Home" campaign being mounted by the Department of Employment. The Minister, Sir Reg Empey, has led from the front by meeting and greeting people arriving at Belfast City Airport and highlighting the potential for jobs.
It might sound a bit corny but Sir Reg is to be commended for the initiative. These days there is not just the usual emotional heart-tug but often a solid career reason for deciding to up sticks and consider a new life back home.
Over the next few days, those who have returned home will quickly discover that there is a new spirit of optimism abroad in this community. The province's future is at last looking rosy.
Northern Ireland has lost many talented young people as a result of years of the brain drain. But now the tide is turning, and there can be no better time than Christmas for expats to reflect upon how much their native province has to offer - and to decide to catch the wave.