This time of the year is special for many different reasons.  It can be seen as a time to reflect and say goodbye to the year past, and also to look forward to the year ahead with positivity and hope.  It is a time to remember those whom we may have lost in the last year, but remember fondly the legacies they have left behind.  And of course for those of us who are guided by our Christian faith, Christmas has its own very significant meaning.

There are of course many other faiths that do not celebrate Christmas, and there are others who have no religious beliefs at all.  However, this time of year can still be special as people recognise the festive season in their own way.  It is very often a time for families to come together, and for communities to come together to look after those who may be most vulnerable.

Looking back, 2018 brought its challenges for the Orange Order.  The undercurrent of hatred against our community by some has started to manifest itself in direct discrimination against us.  Those with the power to take action against us are colluding and causing division and discontent in communities once again where sectarianism was thankfully a thing of the past.

And time and again, our organisation is being accused of intolerance by people who openly refuse to tolerate us.

Whilst we fully expect this discrimination against us to continue in to 2019, rest assured that we will continue to fight this prejudice at all levels and whatever way is deemed appropriate.  Thus far, we the Loyal Orders are the only organisations that continue to abide by the standards and codes established by the authorities over many years and following numerous reviews.  We are currently assessing whether this is appropriate when others fail to follow these guidelines with no recourse.  We will continue to stand up for our community and our rights, just as those who established our organisation many years ago had to do.

On other matters, 2018 was of course dominated by Brexit negotiations.  Whilst many of us may be weary of the continuous coverage of the many ups and downs of the negotiations, the final settlement will have very serious ramifications for all of us, especially for our colleagues in Northern Ireland.  The union of our nations is an integral part of the Orange Order, and any deal must protect all nations within the UK so that our union continues to bring the prosperity and stability that we all currently share and enjoy.  Please keep our friends in Northern Ireland in your thoughts this Christmas.

Finally, I’d like to wish all of our members a very Happy and enjoyable Christmas.  I’d like to thank the membership for their help and support over the past year, and pay a particular tribute to those that have been working hard to raise the tens of thousands of pounds that we have raised to go towards charitable causes.  There are many people, of all faiths and none, that need our help and support, particularly at this time of the year.  So as we say a prayer at our meal tables this Christmas, do include those less fortunate in your thoughts, and then continue to do all that we can in the coming year to raise funds for charities that help and support so many in communities right across Scotland.

Have a Merry Christmas, and best wishes for the New Year.

Jim McHarg