Editor's Viewpoint: Black Santa vital in helping NI charities
The Black Santa charity appeal on the steps of St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast is moving with the times as donors can now use their bank cards to make a contactless contribution to this annual fundraiser.
What has not changed in the 43 years since Dean Sammy Crooks began the appeal is the selflessness of the thousands who hand over cash to help those worse off than themselves.
If there is one event which exemplifies the true message of Christmas then it is this one. Every penny raised - last year the total was an amazing £168,000 - goes to a long list of charities, many so small that they cannot afford their own fundraisers, yet need the money as desperately as any of their competitors for the public's attention.
Christmas is a time of excess for many. If we are honest, many of us spend too much on presents which can often lose their lustre in a few short weeks. Of course we are entitled to enjoy the festive season and to express our feelings for our families and friends.
But moderation is often a forgotten word and do we think at all of the refugees who have sought safety in our country, or those who don't even have a roof over their heads to call their own or those whose Christmas, like so many other days of the year, is blighted by mental ill health?
Black Santa - like so many other charities at this time of the year - may prick our consciences as we see the present Dean, Stephen Forde, and clerical colleagues stand out in the bitterest of weather.
It would take a heart of stone to walk on by untouched by the work they are doing.
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This sit-out has become a Christmas tradition and it is one which enhances the image of Belfast. Northern Ireland may have suffered more than its fair share of austerity in recent years but the giving hands of its citizens have never stopped delivering hope and charity to those in most need.
And, incidentally, the donations must restore the recipients' faith in their fellow men and women.
Black Santa is a non-denominational appeal. Those who benefit from its charitable donations have only to prove their need and that surely is what Christianity is all about - helping those who cannot help themselves.
The message is clear - go out of your way to seek out Black Santa as he is going out of his way to help others.
Every pound given will be a present which will have an effect long after Christmas.