Living Columns & Blogs

The ‘humbug’ and sugar plum fairy in us all

The season is upon us. Everyone sharing good cheer, lighthearted wishes as well as serious, stirring points of view simultaneously. Could it be that each of us can be a bit of a humbug and a sugar plum fairy concurrently and harmoniously?

Let’s take a look at humbugs within us — not the traditional English hardboiled peppermint sweets but the Scrooge personality who snarls “Bah Humbug” often and to no one in particular. During this holiday time, the to-do lists pile up as we try to find the right present for each family member. The myriad catalogs that arrive daily have an enormous range of options. There are fantasy gifts for a photo session with Gray Malin or Ryder Cup VIP passes, or options from active wear to lounge wear, cooking gear to restaurant gift cards.

The trick for the humbug personality is weighing the time it takes to plan and execute these gift purchasing decisions, and balancing the uncertainty if the gift will have the meaning we intend. Or will it simply be part of the trade in tradition, if we have missed the mark on what the recipient finds meaningful. Is this uncertainty part of what makes each of us a bit surly or even cantankerous at this time? Or is it the time taken from busy schedules to think about others needs and find a match?

It is not always about the gift giving, it is also about spending time with family members who can be tricky. Those humbugs who are extroverts love the option to interact with loved ones they have not seen for some time and the introverts are just trying to ensure everything goes smoothly and then they can take respite after the events end.

Sugar plum fairies may be just the solution to our humbug surliness. Perhaps if we could keep our humbug nature and add some sugar we could glide through the season with aplomb. How can we do this you ask? Three specific thoughts and actions. Seek out three different friends or acquaintances, one rather shy, one effervescent and vivacious and one quite cerebral. Have coffee, drinks or dinner alone with each and simply listen to what is happening in each person’s world. Next, find a friend, colleague or neighbor who seems to be in the perpetual humbug frame of mind. Send them some type of uplifting message. A funny knock-knock joke, silly emoji text or basket full of bubbly items to lift them up. Finally, get your sneakers on and run — run like you are a teenager with long lanky limbs. Run until you can’t find your way back and then run some more.

When you get home just sit and feel and don’t think. The sugar plum fairy in you will merge with the humbug and both will be simpatico. Having both coincide at this time of the year can be rewarding, humbling and fulfilling.

The tales people share when someone is listening can be renewing; even if you are an extrovert if you can listen to others wholly it can be a gift. Helping others, especially when they do not expect it, can be an amazingly rewarding experience.

As college students, my brother and I would come home to State College. Every year on Christmas Eve we would walk to a neighbor’s home, knock on their door, bring a small plate of homemade cookies and talk with them about our years and listen to their stories about their year. One couple did not have any children and were in their 70s. Years later they told our parents what a surprise it was the first year. The house was not tidy, they were in their house clothes not at all ready to host guests and here came two teenagers, unannounced, to wish them Merry Christmas. This tradition went on for five or so years. Each year the couple waited for our arrival. After the first year they made sure the coffee was on and some type of food was available for their guests.

My brother and I have talked about this tradition on a few occasions and we are not sure who benefited more, the couple or ourselves. The feeling that comes from listening to someone who wants to be heard can be priceless. This feeling of deep gratification is helpful and uplifting in a season when balancing emotions, time, budgets and sleep can be tricky. May this season allow your humbug feelings and sugar plum actions to meld perfectly.

Anne Link Lehmann, who has an undergraduate degree from Denison University and graduate degree from Marymount University, grew up in State College. She worked in the field of business at General Electric the Aerospace division, Andersen Consulting and Fidelity Investments. She now is a writer for publications in the greater Boston area. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with her husband Bob and two high school-aged sons, William and Matthew.