CHRISTMAS is a time when we are all supposed to be full of joy and bonhomie.

Instagram and other social media feeds are full of ‘perfect’ pictures of fun nights out and family get-togethers. It is easy to believe that everyone is having a brilliant time. And many will be, which is fantastic.

For many, though, Christmas brings mixed emotions.

A heightened sense of loneliness for those who don’t have family and friends around.

For those who have lost loved ones, a reminder of the grief they feel. Conversely, an obligation to socialise with people that we might not normally choose to spend so much time with.

Massive pressure – especially for those with kids – to spend too much money. And a tendency to eat and drink much more than is good for us.

These pressures have always been there, but they feel even more acute this year given a cost of living crisis making everything so much more expensive, and life extremely hard for many.

Add to all of that the horror that is unfolding before our eyes, day by day, in Gaza – and the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine – and it’s hardly surprising that many are struggling more than normal this year to find the festive spirit.

So perhaps this is exactly the right time to try even harder to remember the real spirit of Christmas.

If we are lucky enough to have them round, we should cherish spending time with loved ones.

We should make an extra effort to value their company more than any gifts they might bring us.

After all, it is only three years since Covid kept us all apart at Christmas.

How quickly we seem to have forgotten the resolutions we all made then to never again take the simple things for granted.

And if we are able, a donation to a food or toy bank might make Christmas easier and happier for someone else. I wish these places weren’t necessary, and I’m proud that the Scottish Child Payment introduced while I was First Minister is making them slightly less necessary for many. But while some – far too many – live in poverty, food, toy, and baby banks are a lifeline.

We should thank those who volunteer their time and effort and resolve to help out if we can. At this time of year, looking in on an elderly neighbour – or someone who lives alone – can also make a big difference.

Even just stopping to chat in the street – something that doesn’t always come easy in these days of social media and constant staring at phone screens – might help make someone feel less alone.

Indeed, if we all resolved to perform just one simple act of kindness over the festive period, we would make the world – and probably ourselves – a lot happier in the process.

Wherever you are this Christmas, I wish you peace and joy. And let’s all do whatever we can to make the world a better place in 2024. Happy ¬Christmas.