As we reach the end of what has been a second year dominated by a global pandemic, it can be easy to feel the year has brought us only doom and gloom.
As Alyssa and I flicked through the pages of all our 2021 papers however, in order to create the pages of 2021 highlights (news and sports) we present in this edition, we were quickly reminded the positives far outweighed the negatives this year.
As always, our look back is packed with just some of the best moments and highlights this year has brought, thanks to the many wonderful people in our community. Despite lockdowns, mask and vaccine mandates, and even cases of Covid-19 turning up in our community, our community has once again shown itself to be kind, generous and united throughout.
While Covid-19 has dominated the headlines, locally, nationally and globally, there has been plenty of other news over the year, and some of it has been more than just good, it's been truly fantastic.
Did you know pandas are no longer endangered for example? As of September this year, those cuddly giant creatures were removed from the list of endangered animals by Chinese officials.
If you prefer flowers to pandas (are there any people who do? Surely not ...), you also had great news to celebrate this year. 2021 was the year a rare species of orchid, thought to be extinct in the UK, was discovered growing in the rooftop garden of a London based investment bank.
Despite pandas and orchids, however, I will admit to still finding it hard to get into a positive mood as we neared the end of what seems to have been an incredibly long year.
I couldn't find my Christmas cheer, as I knew what I really wanted for Christmas - to see my parents and grandmother - wasn't going to be happening, even with all of Hana Kōkō's magic in the air. It's been a long time since we have seen them, and there is no doubt it is hard.
Like many of you, our family is separated by oceans and continents and video calls just don't always cut it. Add to that, there is no Christmas tree in our house this year thanks to eight cats (seven of which are former ferals) who treat anything and everything like a new climbing toy just begging to be topped and destroyed!
Today, however, I feel full of Christmas cheer and all the joy of the season. What changed? Sadly, not a suddenly available seat on Santa's sleigh to reunite with my wonderful parents and amazing granny, but a couple of evenings out, driving around Stratford.
As a family, we were asked to judge this year's Christmas Light trail, as organised by the tireless and incredibly kind-hearted Kylee Lawrence and Shannan Young. As we drove around town, our car was soon filled with plenty of "oohs" and "aaahs" as each turn in the road led to another beautifully decorated house.
It was incredibly hard to pick the eventual winners, as every house we saw brought something different to the trail, but despite the ensuing debates and heated discussions as we each picked a favourite, those evenings driving around Stratford have formed a magical Christmas memory our family will savour for many years.
Whether it is pandas or Christmas lights, I hope you and your families all find joy and happiness this festive season, and Alyssa and I look forward to sharing all the good news to come in 2022 with you.