HAVING not been at home for Christmas in the past nine years I've never had lights or a tree or any of the decorative trappings that signal the coming of the Christ child and Santa.

This year, though, like everyone, I was in my own flat with carte blanche on the festive arrangements. Never particularly crafty, I made a wreath for my front door with bits and pieces of greenery foraged from the floor of Queen's Park.

I bought a tiny real tree, festooned with white lights and a poinsettia blooming prettily among the cards and wrapped parcels.

For the first time I felt a need for bright things in darkness, found a new appreciation for the winter festival and all of its lights.

I haven't taken them down. Switching the fairy lights on as the late afternoon brings ink dark skies is a daily ritual to which I'm not ready to say farewell. I tried to put my wreath on the compost heap but... couldn't bear to just yet.

On social media I find I'm not alone. Others are keeping their Christmas lights up too, well beyond the traditional Twelfth Night cut off.

It turns out there's a solid get out of jail free card for this behaviour: the festival of Candlemas doesn't arrive until February 2 and it is, it turns out, a very good excuse to leave the lights on beyond the traditional cut off.

Others, I notice, are getting through this literal and figurative dark spell by foregoing the usual virtue projects of January.

Dry January can sling it's hook, say those fortified by a G&T. Veganuary can budge over til March - bring out the cheese board. I have yet to hear any friend's New Years Resolutions. Just getting by seems to be an acceptable standard.

And so to the return of the re-branded Clap For Carers. Thursday night just passed saw the inaugural evening of Clap For Our Heroes, a broadened out nationwide reinvention of the weekly ritual that ran for 10 weeks until May.

It was quite something, every Thursday at 8pm the country would emerge on doorsteps with pots and pans, clattering and clapping away. In Glasgow there were often fireworks let off into the bright sky - it was never dark enough for them to make an impact but you could certainly hear the explosions across the city.

Even at the height of its popularity, Clap For Carers was controversial. While it was reported that NHS staff felt bolstered by the public show of support, many rightly pointed out that robust PPE, adequate staffing levels and rest periods and decent pay would be preferable to applause.

But folk still clapped. This time round, the founder of the whole exercise, Annemarie Plas, a Dutch woman living in London, said the clapping should be for everyone on the front line - NHS staff, yes, but carers, shop workers, bus drivers, teachers, everyone working to keep the country running.

Yet people now are far more reluctant to clap and the project has been met with fury from those who feel the gesture is empty. Now more than ever NHS workers need sufficient staffing, equipment, PPE, respite and pay.

Absolutely, of course they do. The point of Clap For Carers, though, always seemed to be more about those doing the clapping than who they were clapping for. Like keeping Christmas lights burning through January, the Thursday night clap was about boosting the morale of those wielding the pots and pans. In a structureless time of home working, home schooling and staying always at home, it was useful to have a weekly event in an otherwise monotonous calendar.

At a time of feeling utter helplessness, this was a chance to be proactive in some small way. It's no wonder that there's a desire to resurrect the tradition at a point when things seem even bleaker than before, and also understandable that the same bleakness is prompting scorn at the very idea of weekly clapping.

NHS staff say they feel less supported now than last year but they don't want applause, they want people to stay home, wear their masks, abide by the rules.

If people want to clap for their heroes then leave them alone to do so. Those scorning the idea might use that energy more proactively: lobby your politicians by letter, by email, on social media, for key worker pay rises.

If Clap For Carers showed anything, it's that a loud enough noise can't be ignored.