IT'S hard to believe it is December already.

At the risk of sounding like my gran used to, the years pass much more quickly the older we get. It seems only five minutes since the bells were ringing in 2012.

It always strikes me just how different the first days of December feel compared to the last few days of November - and not just because it very often gets a lot colder.

In November, it feels like Christmas is just creeping up on us. But as soon as the first doors are open on the advent calendars, it all starts to feels very real.

That's when the panic sets in and we all start to worry much more about buying presents and planning the turkey.

Like most people, I love Christmas. I really look forward to getting some days off work and spending time with family.

But there's no doubt that, especially these days, Christmas also brings a lot of pressure for many.

Lots of people feel lonely at Christmas. Many others have to work, providing the essential services that the rest of us take for granted.

I don't envy parents who have to do their best to ensure Santa delivers what their kids want, even in these tough economic times.

That's why I think that, this year especially, we should all try to focus a bit more on the things about Christmas that don't involve massive expense.

Too many people over the last year will have lost jobs or struggled with the rising costs of living, for us not to stop and think about what matters most.

Of course, we all want to eat too much and enjoy giving – and receiving – presents.

But is that really what matters most? It's surely just as important – indeed more so – to spend quality time with relatives and friends that we don't see enough of throughout the year.

Or to spare a few moments to check up on an elderly neighbour who lives alone.

Giving some human kindness to others costs nothing but can often mean a lot more than the most lavish gift imaginable.

We say every year that Christmas is about more than food and presents.

But this year we should make a special effort to remember that. It doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy ourselves.

It just means that we are acknowledging the difficult circumstances that many of our fellow Scots are experiencing.

So I hope everyone out there enjoys the few weeks running up to Christmas - the lights, the festivities and the increasing excitement of the kids. It is, of course, a chance to put our worries to one side and celebrate a festival we all love.

But let's also resolve to treasure what makes Christmas really special.

It is about caring and looking out for each other, enjoying the company of loved ones, and focusing on what really matters in life: our health, our friends and our families.

Happy Advent.