WISHING everyone within our community a very Merry Christmas, and a happy 2024 when it comes.

Wishing it, but knowing that it is a tricky ask, because we also feel keenly the loss, grief, pain, and pressure that often sit alongside the joy, peace, love, and hope that we wish for each other at this time of year.

Last Friday we had a Gig for Gaza here in Greenock, supported by many, with local bands and singers again bringing their talents into the community space in solidarity with people across the world.

I had the privilege of spending time with Maha, a Palestinian woman who spoke on the evening about her life story and her experience.

Her words have shaped my Christmas.

For the first time, this year, Bethlehem’s Christmas lights remain unlit. On Friday, the lights on the Christmas Tree at the venue were switched off as a reminder of this. Looking at the array of beautiful twinkling lights across our town as I walk around – and you really do have beautiful trees! – this has become another point of remembrance of the experiences of others.

Maha spoke of being separated from her brothers for many, many years. The pain of this separation was so evident as she spoke. It made me aware of how much I take for granted that I can communicate freely with my brothers and made me resolve to do it more.

This Christmas, with our human balance of joy and sadness, may we reach out to each other and the world as never before, hold close to us those we love, shine lights in darkness and seek peace.