Sleigh bells did not ring for my client at Christmas. There was only one sound he waited for on Christmas Day: the jingle bell of the front door. It meant that Deliveroo had arrived with his Christmas dinner – his gift to himself. “Kebabs, Indian, Chinese. I order exactly what I want. All different dishes and lots of them!” His voice had all the trimmings of Christmas – indulgence, excitement, a sprinkle of frenzy. As he described the various Christmas takeaway feasts he’d had over the years he beamed with a glow that would out-wattage any Christmas star. “Last year I even had sushi!” I nodded to show that I understood, and that I could fit this Christmas dinner piece into my jigsaw puzzle of him; in our sessions he would often speak of “taking himself out on a dinner date” to Yo Sushi, where he would happily sit for hours at the conveyor belt, eating colourful plates of perfectly formed sushi and watching less perfectly formed people go by. He did culinary self-care well – he always thought about what he enjoyed eating, rather than thinking about what he should cook, whether on a weekday or at Christmas. He hadn’t succumbed to what the psychoanalyst Karen Horney called “the tyranny of the should”. For him, Christmas was about could – his Christmas takeaway table was a symbol of possibility, pleasure and plenty.
Christmas dinner, however, was not his most important festive food as a child. Each Christmas Eve he would leave cookies and milk for Santa. It was his favourite festive ritual and his chance to show off his niceness, both to Santa and his mother. He took his task seriously; he wanted to create the perfect plate that went beyond boring Maryland cookies. He would dig out one of his mother’s finest bone china plates with a gold trim. Diligently, he would create a concentric cookie collection matched in colour, flavour and texture; he positioned the ruby red of the Jammie Dodgers to complement the candy pink Party Rings. He sat the dark and boisterous triple chocolate cookies next to the Bourbons. He coupled the golden grainy Digestives with the Hobnobs. The Nice biscuits, however, he would always keep for himself because they were his favourites – he loved their delicate sugariness. He had been a good boy all year, he deserved them, he told himself. It was his little way of giving something to himself. Self-compassion – it’s the gift that keeps on giving, at Christmas, in therapy and beyond. It seemed he had always understood the pleasure and importance of caring for himself, and of listening to, and delivering, his heart’s desire. As he told me this Christmas tale, he smiled; there was an optimism to him that felt as appetising as those sweet biscuits. There can be niceness even in naughtiness. And at Christmas time, it is especially important to remember to be Nice to yourself.
This story was the inspiration behind my Christmas snowy shortbreads.