JUST 26 sleeps.

That’s right, just 26 sleeps until Christmas Day and I must confess I am starting to get a little excited.

It seems the decorations in shops and adverts on the television begin to appear earlier every year.

I believe a few people in Inverclyde even had their decorations up and their trees on display in their window at the start of November.

This is my first festive season in my role as provost and already I am getting a real sense of the excitement and anticipation building particularly among children.

Nowhere was that more evident than on Friday, right, when I had the pleasure of hitching a ride on Santa’s sleigh – a first for me by the way – to switch on the Christmas lights in Greenock’s Clyde Square.

It was a cold but thankfully dry occasion which began with a reindeer parade through the Oak Mall led by Lower Clyde Pipes and Drums.

The crowd were well entertained by stars from the Beacon’s panto Cinderella and I was delighted to be given the honour of flicking the switch to transform the square into a festive feast for the eyes.

The weeks ahead will no doubt seem like an eternity for children. For them time passes slowly and of course the younger you are it must feel like forever until Christmas Eve and a visit from our friend in red with a fondness for mince pies.

That is why I am particularly looking forward to the start of December in my role as provost.

There are nativity plays and Christmas concerts to attend which really start to build the excitement and anticipation of the big day.

As always, however, it is really important to think about the people who may be missing out.

We all enjoy the company of friends and family – laughter, fun and a sense of belonging are at the heart of the season’s celebrations and festivities.

But it can be a time when people feel at their lowest – especially the lonely who can feel their isolation even more keenly at this time of year.

Christmas is a time for generosity, but not just of material things such as gifts and presents.

It is a time when generosity of spirit – the milk of human kindness as William Shakespeare put it – should be flowing in abundance.

Let us all remember our neighbours or someone we know who lives on their own. Perhaps pay them a visit from time to time over the coming weeks – and beyond.

A few kind words or a small gift could make all of the difference.

We could perhaps take the work of Inverclyde Street Pastors as our inspiration. Last weekend I had the pleasure of hearing more about their work all year round.

These specially trained volunteers who spend Saturday evenings in Greenock and Gourock town centres providing help and advice to people in need and listening to those who want to talk.

A partnership between local churches, the council and Police Scotland, they have been operating for the past seven years and I was equally impressed and humbled by their work – a real example of practical Christianity in action.

Finally a reminder that on Friday it is the turn of Gourock and Wemyss Bay to celebrate their Christmas lights being switched on.

They will be followed by Port Glasgow on December 6 and Quarrier’s. Kilmacolm and Inverkip on December 8.

Full details can be found at www.inverclyde.gov.uk/events/4579/676/christmas-lights-2017