This Christmas think of children who find Santa has left nothing
Is it just my imagination or is there a distinct lack of Christmas spirit out there this year.
Normally at this time it is impossible to go into any shop without risking permanent injury from the sharp elbows of shoppers on the trail of a must-have present.
But any time recently I have ventured into any of Belfast's most popular retail outlets, not only was I able to walk around it in a relaxed manner, but also queues at the tills were mercifully short and swift moving.
My observations seem to be borne out by retail organisations which say that shoppers are keeping a tight hold on their purses with sales only slightly above last year's results which were terrible due to the fears of financial meltdown.
No doubt there will be exhortations for people to get out to the shops, with retailers complaining that they are about to go out of business with all the knock-on effect that will have for their staff and the economy in general.
Retailers do depend on the festive season for a large part of their annual income and a bad trading season could have serious implications for the future. Most at risk are the small independent traders who find themselves under pressure from the cost cutting multiples and internet traders who can offer goods at prices far below what is feasible for the family businesses.
While it will do no harm to spare a thought for local traders, there are other people that should remain in our thoughts at this time.
They are the families who have nothing to spend on luxuries — or even many of the essentials — this Christmas.
St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army have been running their annual appeal for several weeks now. Last year — thanks to the generosity of people from across the province — the two organisations were able to give out toys and other presents to almost 12,500 children from 5,000 families.
There is no reason to believe that the need will be any less this year. Indeed, all the indications are that it will be greater.
If your family is anything like mine, the amount spent on presents will be indecently large. Think of the price of any electronic game, the latest mobile phones or clothes and the bill just seems to keep on mounting.
But for some families such presents are far beyond their budgets. They have difficulty just meeting their day-to-day requirements without seeking out even small luxuries.
Imagine the feelings of those parents faced with the prospect of their children getting up early on Christmas morning, looking for the presents that Santa left, and finding nothing.
That prospect might seem far removed from the experiences of most of us, but we should remember that in today's uncertain economic climate, this time next year it could be any one of us without a job or a meaningful income.
If Christmas is about anything, it is about remembering exactly what Christianity is about — doing onto others what you would like done onto you.
The two charities — and plenty of community-based organisations — are depending on a little Christian spirit to help desperate families get through the festive season with a little cheer and a little dignity.
Surely it is not asking too much of any of us to lend a helping hand?