A little at a time

Look closely– we’re still festive, and still in the picture!
Matt, Susan and me (with cameras in hand) are reflected in the ornament.
Springfield Mall, Virginia, November 2017

“I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year.” Ray Stannard Baker (David Grayson) 

Even more than last year, this has been and will be a very different Christmas season for us. I realized this year will be the first time in all my 61 years that I will be spending the holiday with only one other family member.

Before I married, I spent every single Christmas with a large and loud family for whom the holiday was a major event. After marriage, and until we had children, Jeff and I spent every Christmas visiting both his family and mine, often traveling the five hours between their homes on Christmas Day itself, so that we could spend Christmas morning with one set of parents, and Christmas evening with the other. Then after we had kids, we were our own family of three and then four, still traveling often to see our extended family. Last year, Matt and I spent Christmas Day at Drew’s home, and I spent the days leading up to it with my sister and my “other Mama and Daddy” about whom I wrote a post on this blog.

This year, it will be just Matt and me. We will be joining close friends at various points in the season, as we have already done, but there will be no family with us at any point in the season. We considered traveling to my sister’s home, and to see Jeff’s mother, but Matt requested that he and I spend Christmas at York this year rather than traveling. I understood his need to be at home where the memories are warm and there are none of the stresses associated with travel to distant points. I also knew that we are living a different reality now, one to which we must grow accustomed.

So far, it has not been as dismal an experience as it may sound. To be sure, there is sorrow that so many things are forever changed, and both Matt and I are definitely “sadder but wiser.” Yet there have been unexpected joys and loyal friends to stand beside us, many of whom will be reading these words– you know who you are!

And it has been, thus far, the most stress-free holiday of my adult life. Not a bad trade-off. Christmas, after all, is the underlying reason for the merriment, not the other way around. In fact, Christmas stands alone quite nicely. As the Grinch found, “He didn’t stop Christmas from coming – it came! Somehow or other, it came just the same.”

At this stage of my life, coming off of the incalculable stress of the past six years, it seems an appropriate time to step back from the cooking, decorating, gift-wrapping and party-hosting that have been woven into Christmas for as long as I can remember. Much of that festivity has been pictured and celebrated on this blog, and you can find those posts simply by entering the word “Christmas” in the search box. If you’re unfamiliar with my deep love of the season, or just want to re-visit those years, you’ll find no shortage of holiday posts to explore.

I look back on my years of celebrating Christmas with equal parts happiness for all the memories we made, and wonder that I was somehow able to accomplish as much of it as I did. I couldn’t have done it, of course, without Jeff there to help me. Even though he tended to leave all the planning in my hands, he funded all of it, and was there with his reliable eye for detail and his much better sense of time, making sure I didn’t forget this or run too late for that.

I don’t expect much from Christmas now, and that’s OK. It begins with expecting less from myself, especially at this time of year, and that’s not only OK; it’s vital. The heartfelt card sent out later than I meant to get it into the mail; the leisurely cup of tea by a friend’s Christmas tree; the wrapping of half the number of gifts with as much or more sentiment as went into the 100+ I used to wrap each year (yes, over a hundred every year, most of them small)– all these alterations are creating for Matt and me, in the words of a dear old song, “a Christmas far more glorious than grand.”

Whether your holiday season this year is an extravaganza, or a quiet, contemplative respite from everyday life, or somewhere in between, I offer you my deepest gratitude for being with us all year long, taking Christmas a little at a time. I toast you all with a cup of good cheer (which for me means tea) and wish you bountiful year-end blessings. I didn’t decorate a Christmas tree this year, but do join me in a virtual Alpine village where Jacquie Lawson will do the honors.
Joy to the world!


  1. Ann

    My husband and I are having a quiet Christmas too. So far, it’s been wonderful. After reading about yesterday’s 12 hour power outage at Atlanta ‘s airport, I ‘m really glad that we are not traveling!!
    You Tube has some great Christmas Carols, I join in albeit off key😊

    Best wishes to you and Matt

    • Ann, I had the exact same thought when I read about ATL and the power outage. I was SO thankful that Matt and I were not in that crowd staring at the screens or waiting in massive lines at a ticket counter or restaurant. One great thing about having grown up in an airline family is that, when traveling space-available, one learns never to travel when everyone else does. After a lifetime of that, it’s hard to muster the courage to try it even when paying full fare! 🙂 Sending jolly wishes to you and yours as you enjoy a quiet Christmas. I never realized how well “quiet” and “Christmas” go together!

  2. Carolyn Coleman

    Thanks Julia. A perfect post for us this year. Thinking of you and your family,

    • Thank you Carolyn! I don’t know if I have your current address– do you have mine? I’d love to hear from you and catch up on how you all are doing. Whenever anyone asks us Matt’s middle name, I have a sweet story to tell them about who inspired it. 🙂

      • Carolyn Coleman

        Merry Christmas Julia and Matt!! Our day is also bittersweet this year. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. May your tears be joyful and your new traditions special. Let’s reconnect in the new year.
        Carolyn, Lynn, and Brett

        • Thank you, Carolyn. It will be great to hear from you. Sending love and many fond memories!

  3. Chris

    Hi Julia,
    It’s nice to have a little Christmas within us all throughout the year. Each day we could “be a blessing” to someone else.
    The season of Advent is the perfect time to wish you and Matt a merry Christmas, and a wonderful new year, filled with hope, peace, joy, and love.

    • Thank you Chris, for being here, for your good wishes, and for reminding us that we really can “honour Christmas in (our) heart(s), and try to keep it all the year” just as Dickens wrote. No matter what happens during the year, at Christmas time I always find myself still believing in hope, peace, joy and love. Thanks for joining me in looking forward with a spirit that will defeat despair!

  4. Julia, wishing you and Matt inner PEACE and outward JOY! You are loved!💟

    • Thank you Cherie! You are a blessing to us, and we keep you close in thought and prayer. ❤

  5. Amy Hill

    Enjoy Matt and the luminaries. Raise a cup of tea to heaven and all those waiting and watching. God bless. I love you.

    • Thanks Amy. They got rained out tonight, so it will be tomorrow night. Hope you all have safe travels tomorrow and a happy time with Steve’s parents. I’ll text you tomorrow night.

  6. Enjoyed your post. I like the idea of simplifying the holiday. This is an idea I am trying to spread this holiday season. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hidlnk1NC10&t=1s If you like it, please share it. Thanks, Rita

    • Thank you; I really enjoyed your message. It’s amazing how much we spend on gifts for each other, when what most of us want is time WITH each other. Sometimes by giving less, we really CAN give more! I’m happy you dropped by.

      • Thank you! Happy New Year to you. I am glad you liked the message. 🙂

  7. Carolyn

    Hello dear friend, I am with you on Christmas. I love this time of the year, but it is nice to have some of this during different times of the year. We will be having our day with David and family, by 3:00 I will be ready for home and a nap.. Fifty two years ago ,today, we started our life as Mr,&Mrs. Hard to believe it has been that long. We wish you and Matt a Merry Christmas and a great new year. Our love is always with you two. Ck. in with you again next year. Love and lots of hugs.

    • Congratulations Carolyn! WOW, 52 years. An impressive milestone, and a wonderful blessing! Hope your holidays are wonderful. Sending our love.

  8. Dorothy Walker

    This year will also be the smallest Christmas for me too, and in lots of ways it is rather nice to be able to spend quiet time reflecting. My daughter, Julie and Ash will be here with me, the other two families in Germany, where it has been snowing (we’re in the middle of a heatwave) and Mumbai. I wish you and Matt a happy day filled with memories and may you be filled with peace, hope, joy and love of this wondrous season. Love and blessings, Dorothy

    • Hello Dorothy, I am so happy you are here with us this Christmas season. I have thought of you so often through the past year. It’s interesting you used the word “reflecting” because that is the theme for tomorrow’s post, but I had not read your comment when I chose the theme. Wow, what a contrast in climates, between NSW and Germany! And you certainly have loved ones far and wide. That must be interesting and also difficult because of the geographical distance you endure. I’m glad Julie and Ash will be with you. Matt and I have had a very simple and peaceful Christmas. Today at church was wonderful as our congregation is hosting the homeless shelter this week (it rotates among local churches who open their buildings during the winter to those who are without housing) and several of the guests were with us for morning worship, two of whom spontaneously shared with us messages of gratitude, hope and joy. It was quite inspiring, a wonderful holiday blessing. I am so thankful for your understanding and friendship. May 2018 be a year of abundance, health and happiness for you and your loved ones!

  9. Julia, I hope you have a blessed Christmas. Your posts over the years have made me smile,be lifted up,and yes,cried.I wish you Matt,Drew and family the warmest Christmas blessings and a great start to the new year

    • Thank you so much, I am deeply grateful and happy to think that anything I write can be helpful to someone. Matt and I are sitting together by the fire as I write this, listening to the lovely Christmas music (commercial-free) on public radio. So we are experiencing the “warmest Christmas blessings” you wished us 🙂 and we too send you our best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a happy 2018. Thanks for being with us here.

  10. Mike

    Yes Xmas light is good. “Tis a gift to be simple,” as the song says. There is a tea shop -cafe in Woodstock ,GA. that is supposed to be good. We will will have to check it out when you get down this way again. Verie come’s in Christimas Eve and is dealing with some issues with her sister- I may have mentioned earlier to you- Laurie who is deaf and having some housing issues.
    MY DIL- is stessing that she only sent out 50 cards this year and has gotten some from those she did not send a card too. Sound familiiar.? Please don’t stress in a season where we are supposed to be blessed. Be blessed not stressed.
    The train wreck yesterday is not far from our place in So. Seattle.
    I did read ” Go set the watchman” and have some thoughts and found it enigmatic.
    Virtual Xmas tree is beautiful.

    • Mike, I hope Verie made it in safely tonight with minimal hassles. When ATL had the power outage recently, I was happy Matt and I were not stuck in it. If your DIL sent out 50 cards, she is doing much better than most. I hope nobody ever gets stressed if they get a card from me and did not send one. I think sending them out is as much fun, maybe more, as getting them! Yes, we will have to meet for tea sometime in Atlanta, although I don’t know when I’m going to be there again. Long story but we can talk about it sometime, along with more interesting Southern topics such as Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, etc. Oh yeah, I guess I should throw in William Faulkner? 🙂 Hope you and Verie have a wonderful Christmas.

  11. Carol Hoyos


    • Thank you, Carol. ❤

  12. I like the quote at the beginning of this post. Big changes in tradition can be hard. I’m grateful that I’ve never had 2 holidays alike. They get quieter each year. This one may be the quietest ever as my son won’t be here and if the weather takes a turn, my niece will not make it up either. I watch a few sappy Christmas movies in the evening and have done a little baking to give as gifts. I see a lot of changes in the holiday plans of those around me. Many are curtailing activities. We all seem to be simplifying and drawing inward. Maybe a sign of the times. You will find your balance again as you grow accustom to all the changes and new changes continue. It took me a couple of years to mourn the loss of the large family I once had and be even more grateful for the part that remained. I wish you peace in your heart as I know the ache. I’ll keep you and Matt in my thoughts and prayers as we approach another new year. Giant hugs. M

    • Thank you, Marlene. I agree, I think that in general people are drawing inward for many reasons, not all of which are happy ones. The world can seem such a hostile place, to anyone, from anywhere. However, I still see happy signs of good cheer when I do venture out. And the simplifying and curtailing can be a good thing, too, as it’s fertile ground for growth. I hope your niece was able to make it there to see you, but in any case, know I am thinking of you this Christmas Eve, and feeling thankful for your friendship. Matt and I appreciate the prayers, and we keep you in ours also. Sending giant Yuletide hugs!

  13. A beautiful post from you, Julia. I know I’ve mentioned this to you before, but after the death of my father, completely resetting expectations of a day that never would be the same was the key to getting through it and to eventually moving forward. I love that quote! Mike and I are recovering from a nasty flu, so we’ll be easing into Christmas this year. Perhaps we’ll even eat something other than white rice and applesauce. 🙂 I’m glad Matt could express his wishes for Christmas day and that you could honor them. I’m also thrilled to hear that you are not stuck in an airport. Merry Christmas.

    • Alys, I was so sorry to read that you and Mike had the flu. What an awful time for it. I hope by now you are on the mend. Yes, it’s SO wonderful NOT to be stranded in an airport. I hope I can glean more of your wisdom about resetting expectations and moving forward. Some things can only be understood from the inside. As devastating as the loss of a spouse is, I can only imagine how earth-shattering the loss of a parent is to a child, especially when the fallout of that loss continues on so many levels. Thank you for being with us through these difficult years. I look forward to sharing happier times with you in the future. May 2018 be full of blessings for all of us!

      • Thank you, Julia. We’re regaining our strength and finally sleeping better at night. The cough is exhausting.

        All losses are difficult. I think the difference between losing a parent as a child instead of as an adult is that you are still forming. You very much need and rely on that parent, and you don’t have the wherewithal to cope on your own. My mom did the best she could. She was a strong, independent woman. But we didn’t get the support or understanding or counseling or anything like that that would be available now. I think that is part of why I stayed stuck in that grief for so long.

        All her focus went to a mentally ill family member, and to finding a job to put food on the table for our family. So the losses were many and profound.

        I’m grateful to know that you have such a support system: your sister, brother, son and church family, Amy, all of it. It’s wonderful.


        • I’m grateful too, Alys. I don’t know how I would have survived without them– and YOU. I have thought many times about all that people used to go through, during the era of my childhood and earlier, without any of the support systems we now have through counseling and other organized efforts. Sometimes when I think the world is getting crazier by the minute, I remind myself that some things have improved and some progress is being made, however imperfectly. I never knew your mother but even now my heart goes out to her, thinking of what she must have endured and how difficult it must have been for her. Such a large part of my grief has been seeing how Matt’s life has changed since Jeff’s death. I know she must have grieved inside that she did not have the time to be with you and take solace in your company. As you say, the losses are many and profound, and in your mother’s case, multiplied beyond the usual sorrows. But so much of what is wonderful about you must have come out of that crucible of suffering. Thanks for sharing with us. I love you. ❤

  14. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Thank you, Julia, for giving all of us a bit of Christmas all through the year with your encouraging and insightful posts. You help me and others see life with more and more love, appreciation and understanding. God bless you and Matt as you quietly celebrate the gift of one another, mother and son, just as Mary experienced the very first Christmas with her own special son. May you be enfolded in God’s peace and love.

    • Thank you, Judy, for the gift of your kind words and encouragement. I so appreciate hearing from people who are reading the blog and connecting with us through what we share here. Matt is dozing in a chair by the fire as I write this. We are indeed doing just as you say, quietly celebrating the gift of each other, wrapped in God’s peace and love. May 2018 shine with bright blessings for you and your loved ones! I am very grateful to have you with us.

  15. Harry Sims

    Grapevine Daily Quote
    December 22
    “Today’s sobriety cannot be chugalugged … It has to be sipped, one taste at a time, so that each drop of serenity can be fully savored.”

    North Hollywood, Calif., August 1982
    “Savoring Our Sobriety,”
    Emotional Sobriety
    Knee prosthesis surgery four days ago.

    Plan laid out for a month or two of intensive physical therapy followed by approximately a year of continuation.

    Of course I look forward to an excellent result with being able to walk normally once again but I do face this plan prospect with considerable dread for I find I don’t like to know ahead of time what’s in store and I get these feelings of dread.
    Maybe I should talk to God about that.
    Well I already have and do you know what he says; “One Day at a Time Harry, One Day at a Time.”

    The first part of the so-called second part of our serenity prayer says something like this,

    Living one day at a time
    enjoying one moment at a time
    that we may live reasonably happy and satisfied in this year
    accepting this day as it is
    and looking forward to eternity
    with Him forever.

    God lift this feeling of dread.

    I’m Harry, grateful alcoholic and devoted twelve stepper and my sponsor might say a partially treated alcoholic.

    PS I’m glad there is a treatment plan; it’s called the twelve steps.
    It’s called AA.
    And how about https://defeatdespair.com/

    • Hi Harry, I was confused at first by your note about August 1982, thinking it was meant to describe what you wrote after that. But it sounds as if you are recovering from knee surgery? If so, I can understand your feeling of dread about all that will be required of you over the next few months as you continue to heal. Even in “normal” times (whatever that may be) dread can creep in and permeate everything. I think it’s a particular risk of modern life. I wake up almost every day with a sort of generalized feeling of dread, and I agree that it helps if I talk to God about it. And yes, the answer always seems to be getting up and going about the day. I’ve never been in a 12 step program but I’ve read a lot of wisdom from those who have, and I find it helpful. I will pray that God grants you the courage you need each day to get through whatever physical therapy or other challenges you may face. May 2018 bring you many reasons to rejoice!

      • Harry Sims

        Thank you Julia.

        You hit the nail on the head and I want you to know how much you and all who come to these pages have blessed me over many years.


        • Thank you, Harry. I think the people who gather here are a great group!

  16. Susie

    Im a total stranger here would liketo wish you a Merry Christmas, wishing you and your family well, wealth and prosperity. I’ve been reading you blog for years now for words of encouragment. Thank you, Susie from Kuala Lumpur.

    • Susie, how wonderful that you took the time to greet us! I’m so happy to know you have been with us for years. I like to think that we somehow sense the fellowship and encouragement of many who never leave comments here, yet still are with us in spirit. I’ve always believed that there is much more to this life than meets the eye. I appreciate the special gift of being able to meet you this year. Now, whenever I hear of Kuala Lumpur, I will think of you. 🙂 Merry Christmas, and may 2018 be full of health and happiness for you and your loved ones!

      • Susie

        Thank you Julia, keep writting, I love reading your blog. Pardon my english, im not good at it. Have a great day.

        • Susie, your English is fine! And we love hearing from you. Thanks for being here with us.

  17. Rene

    The Christmas Tree is another example of me letting go. I HAVE to have a Christmas tree. I take a lot of pleasure from unwrapping each ornament, remembering where it came from or who gave it to me, and placing it in the exact right spot on the tree (and doing the reverse when I finally get around to taking the tree down in January, February, or March—yes, I really did leave one up that long). This was the year we were to get a real tree but my son forgot to come home the day we had planned & there wasn’t another good opportunity. Johnny pointed out that it has been so dry that a live tree probably wasn’t a good idea anyway; but we couldn’t find the tiny artificial one we had bought last year. I just let it go. Christmas was coming, guests were coming and dinner was the thing I had to focus on. Lo & behold, Johnny (who saves his Christmas shopping for Christmas Eve) found a great deal on a tall, artificial tree THAT ALREADY HAD LIGHTS ON IT!!! Without my even suggesting he look for one! I also let go of the decorating: my mother-in-law came over for dinner Christmas Eve & I was able to put her to work on it while I cooked. She was happy, I was happy, and it was even more enjoyable because I didn’t get all crazy about making it happen. I have a picture of Buster lying under the tree the morning after Christmas, I’ll share with you when I can figure out the technology.

    • Rene, this story makes me so happy. The way you describe how you are about the tree sounds exactly like me. I have never left the tree up until February, but it did get awfully late in January one year. That’s the main benefit of an artificial tree — you can leave it up until you have time to take it down. But I confess that each and every year I put that tree up, I wondered whether I should be spending so much time on it. Perhaps the time has come for me to let it go? I have gone the past two years now (both Christmas Days since Jeff died) without putting it up, and had no regrets for not doing so; maybe that chapter of my life is gone now. In any case I do think it’s wise to be able to take a pass on it, as you did, when circumstances suggest that it’s the practical thing to do. As with Johnny’s surprise new tree for you, I think that if the time ever comes for me to decorate a tree again, I’ll know it. Pasha always loved to lie under the Christmas tree. Sounds like Buster does too. I used to wonder if it was the warmth from the lights, or just the feeling of having shelter close overhead? In any case, it’s charming. The only thing better than having gifts under the tree, is having a dog or cat lying peacefully underneath. When Pasha was an energetic pup who chewed everything in sight, we worried that he would attack the tree or use it as a restroom 🙂 but no, he seemed to know from the beginning that it was special. Thanks again for sharing this wonderful story.

      • Rene

        Our previous dog peed on the gifts under the tree one year, we now keep them on the table until just before we’re going to open them. The year I kept the tree up so long was the year my dad died, my job was eliminated by the company I worked for and I took their offer of a lower-paying position rather than look for a new job because I was pregnant. Things got better in the spring!

        • Oh dear, that was exactly what I feared Pasha would do, especially when he was a puppy. But he never did. Wow, what a difficult season that must have been for you. Hopefully the tree served as a reminder that things would get better. I’m glad they did!!! 🙂

  18. Your Christmas sounded perfect to me Julia! I scaled back this year too, on the shopping, baking and decorating. I decided to skip the all consuming schecule that is ‘the holidays’. Opting for a wonderful lunch out with all my Urban friends and a quiet dinner here with just Jim and I. It’s really liberating. I did put up a tree, but not the usual bells and whistles. It just seemed like too much effort and I was enjoying other things. I think it’s important to celebrate in a way that makes you happiest and I love the quote you shared above. Why should we wait for Christmas to give to charities, friends and family? Your photo above is really awesome too! xo K

    • Thank you, K. Isn’t it interesting how many of us are opting for slower, saner versions of the holiday? Maybe we’re getting older AND wiser (though most days I feel as if the “older” is way ahead of the “wiser”). This year I’m going to remind myself…”why wait until Christmas?” 😀 Glad you liked the photo. It was fun taking it.

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