Often at this time of year we remember the places we’ve been and plan where we’re going next. There’s one place though, which is very much in my thoughts right now.

I travelled through Syria with my partner and young daughter in 2008, staying in Aleppo and Damascus. This beautiful country stole our hearts then and remains there now.

We made many friends during our stay there and have been in touch with some during the recent troubles began earlier this year. One man who rented us an apartment in Damascus spent a month in jail and has now fled to neighbouring Jordan.

Another replied tersely to e-mails, dismissing any prospect of trouble in Aleppo. He was mindful, no doubt, of the monitoring of online traffic that goes on.

People criticising the regime online have found themselves jailed or worse.

This troubled country was the scene of major biblical events, and it was moving to see the sites of them, like the street in Damascus where St Paul was converted and it is moving now to think of their plight this Christmas.

Although a majority Muslim country, Aleppo and Damascus have big Christian populations and the country has a tradition of religious tolerance. A small town outside Damascus, Meluula, is the last stronghold of the language spoken by Jesus, Aramaic.

For all its ills, people told me at the time, the Assad regime had reinforced this tolerance, not least because the family come from the Alawi sect, a Sunni group who make up around 10 per cent of the population.

Friends told of how fragile the balance between religions was which contrasted with the turmoil once seen in neighbouring Lebanon.

Sadly, that turmoil has began to visit Syria, but whether it descends into sectarian savagery seen in her neighbour during the eighties remains to be seen. I fervently hope that it does not.

So although many there will not be celebrating on December the 25th, I’ll still wish them a happy Christmas and a free and safe 2012.