PRIMARY schools should always be happy places – and never more so than at this time of year.

All over Scotland this week little children will be enjoying Christmas parties and visits from Santa.

The excitement levels will be rising with every day that passes and, much as I am sure they love it, tired teachers will also be counting down the hours until the start of the holidays.

That is all as it should be.

But thousands of miles away in Connecticut, the reality could not be more different. As a result of the horror that unfolded on Friday in Sandy Hook Elementary School, 26 families are facing up to the misery and devastation of their first Christmas without a loved one.

The accounts in the weekend newspapers of this horrific shooting were heartbreaking.

People all over the world will have read these accounts, as I did, with tears in their eyes.

Parents everywhere will have cuddled their kids a bit closer. Here in Scotland, of course, the atrocity also brought back the dreadful memories of the all-too-similar events in Dunblane back in 1996.

Of course, it is not for any of us to tell people in another country how to run their affairs.

The American people and politicians have to decide how to react in the face of such horror.

But I really do hope what happened on Friday leads to the meaningful action on gun control that President Obama talked about at the weekend. If it doesn't, the fear is that it will only be a matter of time until the next atrocity.

That surely cannot be allowed to happen.

There is nothing that can be said by anyone to ease the suffering that those affected by this tragedy will be feeling.

But, as always with dreadful events like this, there are stories of individual bravery that shine through.

The accounts of teachers trying to hide and shield children from the gunman, some of them paying with their lives, is a reminder of the essential goodness of human beings, even in the face of great danger – and that is what we should try to remember most at this time of year.

So, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, it is a good time to say an extra special thank you to the teachers who teach our children, to the doctors, nurses and others who care for us when we are sick, to the ambulance workers, the police and the fire officers who so often put themselves in danger attending emergencies on our behalf.

It is a time to remember the shop workers and the staff who will serve us in the bars and restaurants over the festive period because, for them, this is the busiest time of the year.

Above all else, it is a time to remember that, if we have our health and our loved ones around us then –notwithstanding all the problems we might be facing – we are actually very lucky.

I hope everyone has a happy and peaceful Christmas.

n David Stirling: Page 20