Christmas means different things to different people. For some, it is a joyous time of year and for others, it is a time of reflection.

Whatever Christmas means to you, I hope that we can all enjoy the special times it brings and truly understand what the ‘spirit’ of Christmas is all about.

As Mayor, I have been able to witness an amazing community spirit, thanks to our spectacular Christmas Programme – which has included numerous festive light ‘switch-ons’ across Lisburn Castlereagh.

It always warms and inspires me to see how local residents work together to put on great events for their local community. I have enjoyed taking part in our popular Christmas events - from Christmas at the Castle and the Lisburn Light Festival to charity film screenings, pop-up markets and much more!

Christmas is a great catalyst – inspiring positive community spirit and bringing people together from all cultures and backgrounds. It’s a time of year where we can reach out to others in many small but significant ways – sometimes without realising the impact that this can have. 

I have seen this during my visits to nursing homes. It is very special to see how people, who may not have known each other until recently, now live together and share in the spirit of togetherness.

There’s a special feeling at Christmas when you are spending time with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours - and I have seen and felt this as I have chatted to people, old and young, across our area.

For people of faith, Christmas is all about a special gift – one that is free to all who want to claim it and one we can never match, the gift of Jesus Christ, signifying that first Christmas. This is the primary source of the spirit of giving at Christmas.

Throughout the year, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity I see all around me. Many people constantly gift their time, effort and commitment to others who need it often in a voluntary capacity.

This is true too of my visits to schools and community groups.  It doesn’t go unnoticed how much effort is put in by many to make our area such a special place to live, work and play.

I am also very thankful to all those who have given donations to my Mayoral charities, the Atlas Centre and Helping Hand, Charity to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children over the past number of months. The essential work that both these organisations do cannot be underestimated - and I appreciate the generosity so many have shown in supporting my efforts. Raising vital funds during my time as Mayor, I hope, will help change lives for the better.

Importantly, there are two sides to a gift: the person giving it, but also the one who is receiving it.

While the spirit of giving is mentioned a lot at Christmas - the spirit of receiving is also important. These are tough times because of challenges around the cost of living crisis and buying Christmas presents may be a financial struggle for many. I have been heartened by the many local businesses and voluntary organisations who have supported food and toy donations this year to ease the burden for individuals and families. 

With that in mind, we should cherish and appreciate the gifts we receive. We should remember too that exchanging presents signifies love and hope - and this is something for which we should all be thankful.

As we look ahead into 2023, I hope we can continue to support and encourage each other. Community spirit is what we do best in Lisburn and Castlereagh and I look forward to seeing more of it in the coming months as Mayor.

My hope is that you all have a Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.