Managing One's Inner Scrooge
Kenneth Demsky, PhD
For some fortunate souls, the holiday season lives up to its publicity without any planning on their part. Some loving families really do gather around the hearth to partake in the same cosy rituals year after year. For these folks, the holidays happen satisfactorily without any thinking ahead or proactive behaviour on their part.
But for many modern folk, and I would include many trans people in this, the holidays mean an increased sense of isolation and disappointment when we compare our reality with the ads. "Where's my piece of the Christmas pie?", you might ask.
The secret of a successful holiday for the vast majority of us is to acknowledge our Inner Scrooges which claim that the holidays don't matter. I say, let's face up to humbug on our own terms. We needn't depend on others such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, not to mention our preoccupied, sometimes distant friends and family for the quality of our holidays. Why get hung up on the jumbo-sized Disney version when even a little reality is so much more satisfying!
When you think of the holiday season, what about it appeals to you the most? If you're a list-making person, you might make a list. I'm not, but for the sake of argument, I can pretend. Coming from the New England section of the US, the Christmas holidays for me mean the following (in no particular order): snow, parties, special foods, buying and receiving presents and making contact with people who mean a lot to me but whom I don't regularly visit or call.
Now, I give up on snow right away. That's beyond my capabilities and I admit it. I suppose if I had to have snow at this time of the year, I could save my pennies and take a train to somewhere more northerly. But in London, I'm content to be snowless. And I prefer to spend the pennies in ways that involve interacting with other people.
As for parties, I know that I need a little amount of festivity to make me feel I'm having Christmas. (That's why I have two Christmas ties and four pairs of Christmas socks, for instance!) If I'm not on anyone's guest list, I can arrange my own Yuletide gatherings. I can ask by one or two people at a time for a cup of Christmas cheer and a present--a very mangeable mini-holiday party. It's been my experience that these unexpected little prezzies are much greater successes than any ritualised Christmas swaps with The Usual Suspects. It also inspires me to put up some greenery and red ribbon and take out of dead storage a few of the Christmas ornaments saved from my childhood. And put on my Christmas tie and socks.
For example, there's someone who's been very nice to me all year long at the dry cleaner's around the corner from where I live. During the last year she's been more than helpful at her job and we've gotten to asking about each other's familes, dogs and so on. The first time in December that I pick up my cleaning, I'm going to invite her to stop in for some of my internationally renowned Christmas hot chocolate and surprise her with a small token of my appreciation for her help and friendliness. The gift I found for her? A baby-sized hotwater bottle with a fuzzy, orange cover.
I've also got my eye on a elderly couple down the street whom I often pass when they are working in their front garden. They're quite willing to chat with me now that they're accustomed to seeing me pass their property several days a week as I walk to the Tube. I'm looking forward to having them by for some store-bought eggnog with freshly grated nutmeg on top. The gift for them? A page-sized sheet of plastic that acts like a magnifying glass.
What about presents for me? Even at the best of times, I'm someone who rarely received presents that were "just what I wanted!" from anyone other than myself. I've developed the custom of buying something for me which I don't use until the 25th December. True, there's no surprise element here but there is delight which enhances the day for me. This year I'm going to buy me a watering can for my indoor plants. (Sh-sh! Don't let me find out where I've hidden it or I may not wait!) As I continue to use the coffee mug that's served me somewhat drippily as a watering can for the past few years, I can look forward to the upgrade that's coming my way in just a few weeks.
A friend of mine has a similar custom in that she purchases a new houseplant for herself every Christmas. As a result of this, she has a beautiful indoor garden, and every windowsill is crowded with pots of green growing things. Another friend acquires a new CD of Christmas music annually. What a collection he has: Hawaiian Christmas music, Elvis Christmas music, bell-ringing Christmas, traditional Norwegian Christmas songs, Christmas organ music... He can play Christmas music throughout the holidays and never repeat himself.
What's next? Ah, yes!: special foods. For me these would primarily be eggnog, peppermint sticks and Christmas pudding. For a more epicurean friend of mine, it's pate de foie gras and brandy. A fellow expat friend of mine (who's lived in London over 15 years) requires an all-beef hotdog that reminds him of Times Square, New York and the ball dropping at midnight on New Year's Eve. I know that courtesy of the local shops, I can arrange to be thoroughly sated with whatever takes my fancy if I just plan ahead and stock the larder in a timely fashion. I also like to have on hand a greater-than-usual amount of sweet biscuits, stollen, etc. so that I can thoroughly indulge myself as long as the holiday season lasts. What tastes like the holiday to you?
I'm going to be making a number of transatlantic calls this 25 December. I'm planning to call two college friends I've known over 30 years, and a former neighbour who's now enjoying her 89th year. David, Steve and Annabelle live in different cities in the US and it's not easy for us to visit in person. But they're always in my heart and I want to remind them of that on Christmas. These surprise calls are usually the most meaningful parts of my holiday, whatever else I might do.
It's been said, "Charity begins at home". I'm saying, "So does Christmas!" Rather than listening to your Inner Scrooge and pretending the holidays don't exist, acknowledge that they do. Think about what would make you happy this season. And take action to make your season bright!
Kenneth Demsky, PhD, is an American-trained and credentialled psychologist now living in London. Although based in Hampstead, he sees clients for psychotherapy in three areas of London, including the Earl's Court office of Dr. Russell Reid, London's (the country's: Ed.) most beloved gender specialist. His practice includes working with both individuals and couples. Telephone number: 0207 435 6116.
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. Last amended 04.07.06