Editor's Viewpoint: Spare a thought for the less well off and lonely at Christmas
Christmas is arguably the most eagerly-anticipated holiday of the year. It brings gaiety and colour to the bleak days of winter and is an occasion for people of all ages to join in the festivities.
It is the centre-point of the Christian liturgical year marking the birth of the one the faithful call their Saviour. Tonight and tomorrow churches of all denominations across Northern Ireland will be packed as congregations made up of regular attenders and those whose faith is more dormant for much of the year gather together to celebrate.
Churches have found a great challenge in facing up to the relentless march of secularism and changing moral values and lifestyles. For them Christmas is a time to remind their congregations of their teachings and their relevance even in the modern world.
Leaders of the main Churches here added their voices to the demand for a return of devolution.
Talks between the parties have been suspended over Christmas but the problems facing the province will not be dimmed or diminished by the glitter of the festive season.
The reality for many people is far removed from the images created by the retail industry to entice us to fill its coffers.
Northern Ireland may be part of a modern, wealthy Union, but shamefully Christmas for some will mean a drop in to the local soup kitchen or a trip to the food bank to ensure that the household table has some cheer.
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Most of us will spend substantial sums in buying our loved ones gifts but the greatest gift we could give would be a generous donation to one of the many charities that help to make Christmas more cheerful for those with little or nothing of their own.
It is those charities and their volunteers who show the true spirit of the season and the real meaning of Christianity. Yet, no matter how hard they try, these organisations cannot replicate the happiness of a contented home.
People do not need to have fallen on hard times to dread Christmas.
Due to the simple passage of time they may find themselves alone - spouses dead and families moved away, even overseas.
Loneliness is as great a burden as being penniless and we should look out for those spending the day without a visitor. Just dropping in for a cup of tea and a chat could make someone's Christmas. A kindly thought can work as many wonders as any money.
As ever, each year will see more families staring at an empty chair. A loved one may have been taken by old age, illness or accident and for the bereaved - especially those whose family members died at this time - Christmas will always bear the scars of sadness and loss.
However, it would be wrong to dwell too long on the darker side of Christmas.
It is a time to be merry and for sharing and caring. There is nothing more heart-warming than to see a child filled with joy as he or she unwraps presents from Santa.
Sure the toys have become increasingly expensive as technology has developed but their longevity has increased in similar proportion. And that is the operative word - keeping things in proportion - so that the joy of Christmas is not ended by the despair of big bills in January or February.
After all the toxicity of the Brexit debate, the lack of political leadership and the undercurrent of sinister forces in the province, we need Christmas to enable us to recharge our batteries and gain a sense of what is important in our lives.
A happy Christmas to all our readers.