If You Haven’t got a Ha’penny

Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat
If you haven’t got a penny then a ha’penny will do
If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you!

I have vague recollections of my grandfather singing that to me, and firmer memories of my mother doing the same. It pops into my head frequently at this time of year, as winter dons its frosty marching boots and picks up the pace, hurrying along towards Christmas and the year’s end.
I’m afraid I don’t remember Christmases from my childhood in the Middle East well enough to comment on them, but certainly since our return to England in 2001 it’s been an industrious period. It’s when I do a huge amount of fretting, worrying, overthinking, hand-wringing and mind-wracking. I can almost meet the year’s quota if I work at it.
The reason is this – I like to make people happy. I like to give a gift, see it opened and know that I’ve chosen well. a certain amount of that is pride and self-indulgence, yes, but it really does give you a warm glow to see someone happy and know that you did that, you caused that pleasure.
According to a CBT therapist I once saw, I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist at times. I laughed it off when she first said it, as I’m often starting something, looking at it and going ‘eh, that’ll do’. But the more I thought of it, the more I realised she was right. I’ll say that to myself, but it won’t really stick. It’ll niggle away at me and fester. 
‘You could have baked those a bit crispier.’ 
‘You could have had just the right words if you’d worked a little harder at it.’
‘If you hadn’t have settled for that gift, you could have gotten this one and they’d have been really happy.’
This is a dangerous trap to fall into, because I have no guarantee that a different batch would have been tastier, other words more fitting or a present better suited. And in the latter case it’s especially odd, because my rational brain knows that most people are happy to have been thought of at all. Any present is a good present, and if it’s one picked because I’ve listened carefully and anticipated their needs then all the better – but that can’t always be the baseline. That perfect gift isn’t out there, carefully tucked away on a shelf, crying out to be bought.
There’s the added worry of not being able to buy presents for everybody. I love my friends, and traditionally a gift is a pretty good token of affection, a ‘thank you’ for being there for me, for always having a hug and a smile and shoulder to cry on. It’s an indicator that I’ll always do the same for you to the best of my ability.
Lately, I’ve not been good at the gift-giving for friends. For the past few years, money has been tight and there have been a few squeezes. This year, sadly, is no different – in fact it’ll be worse as I’ve dropped down to a lower-paying job. That said, I’m 2 days in and enjoying it so far, so I take that as a good sign of things to come.
As it stands, though, it looks like it’s another year where I’m not going to be able to be as free with my gift-giving as I’d like to. It makes me feel especially bad when someone gives me a gift and I know I’m going to struggle to reciprocate. And then I feel bad for feeling bad and then I have to go and lie down for a bit.
Please don’t feel that not getting a present from me is a sign that I don’t care for you. I care for my friends very deeply, and I love you very much. I just can’t often dip into my wallet and express that in cash that can be exchanged for goods and/or services.
So I’m going to try and express it in different ways. Come round my flat and watch bad films with me. Meet me for drinks. Have dinner with me (er, in cheap restaurants and pubs!). Vent at me, laugh with me, hug me, be hugged by me. I want to see you, I want to make you smile. If all I can do is buy you a drink and tell you some awful jokes, so be it, but I want you to know that I’m here for you if you need me. Because you’re my friend. And I love you. and, as the cliché goes, isn’t that the thought that counts?
Merry Christmas.

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