Grace the Grinch

I have written many Christmas stories, and they remain among my readers’ favorites. I suspect this is not because Christmas is such a wonderful time of year, full of love and laughter, though it can be. I think the Christmas romance resonates with many because Yuletide is such a hard time of year, lonely, bleak, and overwhelming.

When Lady Sophie wants some solitude at the holidays rather than more time around her huge, happy, happily-married family, readers get that.

When Lady Joan views the holidays with a gimlet-eyed determination to uphold propriety and the expectations her family has of her, readers know where she’s coming from.

When Lady Jenny gets through the holidays with a silent promise to herself that she’ll  get the heck out of Dodge in January, and finally embark on the pursuit of her own agenda, readers don’t judge her for that.

When I was doing foster care lawyering, I knew that without fail, the week between Christmas and New Years would see two kinds of hearings. First, we’d get “disrupted placements,” meaning foster parents or relatives who’d taken in a difficult kid would give up on that kid. Second, we’d get “drive by” Child In Need of Assistance cases, meaning care providers–girlfriends, grandparents, even single parents–would simply drop the kids off in the lobby of the Social Services building with a hearty, “I can’t handle this,” and ride into the sunset.

Christmas Eve is the second-most domestically violent night of the year (after Super Bowl Sunday in the city that wins). New Year’s Day is the annual high point for car theft (talk about an un-designated driver). Alcohol has something to do with these wrong turns, as does stress, disrupted routines, dark skies (in the Northern hemisphere), and pressure to socialize and be generous.

I recall vividly being eight months pregnant one Christmas, unmarried and expecting a child I had not planned. I was still morning sick, which made shoveling a foot of snow off my truck just ever so much fun. I was also living alone and broke (had to move out before a lease was up, because no children allowed–cha-ching!). I knew that if I didn’t get the crib, changing table, and rocker assembled over the holiday break, I’d likely not have another time to do it and for some reason, I was supposed care about that. (I got it done.)

That was a miserable Christmas, made even worse by all the people who gushed to me about how “special” it must be to be expecting over the holidays…

So I approach the holidays with an eye toward the people for whom it’s not an easy time of year. I give to charities aimed at helping families in my area–assistance with the electric bill, donations to food pantries, aid for families with somebody in the pokey. I try to keep mostly to my routine, I really try to watch what I eat because sugar highs and lows don’t help anything. (But the occasional homemade cookie is lovely). I keep good books around me, and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Rudolph,” and “Pretty Woman.”

In other words, Christmas is in some regards, just another lovely day, and that works for me. What works for you?

To THREE commenters, I’ll send an advanced reader copy of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Not The Duke’s Darling. Talk about Christmas coming early!

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51 comments on “Grace the Grinch

  1. I guess I shouldn’t love the holiday as much as I do. We were very poor when I was a kid. My father was an alcoholic, and there was almost always a Christmas fight before the holiday was over. But I loved my father dearly in spite of it all. I can remember him waking us up (probably still Christmas Eve) and telling us Santa had just been there, and we should come see what he had brought us. And I can remember how excited I was when the St. Vincent de Paul Society would bring us baskets of food and gifts.

    As an adult, I had the family Christmas Eve party every year, and I loved, loved, loved doing it. It was a lot of work. Spent months planning and preparing for it. I loved shopping for gifts for everyone. It was a challenge to find something withing my budget that would sill be appreciated. The excitement would get me through the first half of Winter. I get depressed AFTER Christmas.

    Also, despite the gross materialism, I still see Christmas as a religious holiday. I’m sure the actual birth (of Christ) was not as lovely as the reenactment children do each year. Yet, despite that, the story has never gotten old for me.

    BTW, my favorite Christmas movie is A CHRISTMAS STORY. Everything about it reminds me of my childhood.

  2. What works for me is supporting a couple Angel Tree kids and/or seniors each year. I use Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals to buy as much as I can for those folks and stay in my budget. Getting those gifts of clothes and toys each year really puts me in the spirit. Then I settle in with a pile of books, an assortment of cheeses, and pull out my favorite holiday DVD’s: A Christmas Story, Love Actually, It’s A Wonderful Life, and the Peanuts Christmas Special.

  3. This year after going through Hurricane Michael, we are keeping our giving in the community more than the more global giving we usually mix in.
    This year will be low key, with lots of tears but gratitude.

  4. Grace, we each get through the holidays as best we can. My late husband loved everything Christmas. He enjoyed the decorations, the gift giving and especially the holiday baking. I’ve done my best since he’s been gone, for our kids and grandkids. This year, with chemo being the prominent theme, it’s a real challenge. Re-reading your books (in order since that is in my control when so much else is not) gives me a lift when nothing else works. Oh, and watching “The Holiday “. That helps, too! Blessings to you, and keep writing!

  5. Happy Sunday! I think of my late father every Christmas because he loved to celebrate every holiday. I have gained that quality and enjoy the many ways to celebrate with kindness, care, sharing and loving others. Thank you for your great books! Have a blessed day!

  6. Christmas tends to be a tough time of year for some. I keep that in mind and try to give a little something to Salvation Army or donate a toy to Toys for Tots. I am lucky to have family near to help me through the holidays and that can be hard as a single mom. I do try to pay it forward as it were since I can provide a good Christmas for my son. Love watching The Polar Express with my son every year, it’s our tradition

  7. Growing up Christmas wasn’t always so great. So, of course, when I married and eventually had children, I knocked myself out lol. My children are now grown and we’ve made it all so less stressful. We do a secret santa and everyone gives a list with suggestions and we have a money limit. But best of all I have a grandchild now that I get to spoil a little lol and see Christmas through his eyes. And my oldest daughter who gave us this special gift, now hosts Christmas. Some may say we don’t have a lot but I differ with them. We have what really counts.

  8. I would so love to be able to peruse an advanced copy of “Not The Duke’s Darling”. That being said, Christmas is a challenging time of the year. Too much hustle and bustle. Too much worrying about trying to cram visiting all the sides of the family necessary to not put anyone’s nose out of joint. At this time of the year I always look at how fortunate I am and how we have fared over our trials as tribulations, some worse than others. I am truly blessed with a wonderful family and am grateful every day of the year. This is also the time of the year that I make most of my charitable contributions because I have been so blessed. I’m doing lots of reading and thinking lately. Last month I had my knee replaced so when I’m not doing physical therapy I’m reading. Lol, I really don’t mind the sitting and reading part! Thank you for writing your wonderful stories!

  9. Growing up in small-town America during the 50’s and 60’s with three older brothers, Christmas was always a wonderful time, set with strong traditions. Then in 1969, at the age of 18, my world fell apart. My father, the biggest kid around the Christmas tree every year, had a heart attack (at a Christmas party, no less) the week before Christmas, and passed away within hours. Needless to say, Christmases were not the same for awhile. Thankfully, the love of a wonderful husband, and the births of three beautiful children, made me appreciate everything a whole lot more, and even after losing my husband of 45 years a couple years ago, I find myself clinging to many of my dad’s traditions, and instilling them along with new ones when celebrating with my kids and grandkids.

  10. My Mother and I had a difficult relationship. I still remember how astounded I was that she was actually Santa Claus. Christmas carols carry me through.

  11. Christmas will be different this year. A good friend passed unexpectedly in April, two family members are ill and our beloved Molly went to the rainbow bridge in August.

    I am decorating the house and cooking for our family plus two or three guests. Kept the gift giving reasonable & shopping is finished.

    At work we’ve adopted a family and we are chipping into buy clothes and toys. And something nice for the Mom. That’s a positive. And it feels good.

    Sometimes counting your blessings makes you realize the true meaning of Christmas.

  12. Christmas is complicated. I just had lunch with my best from high school. We ate at a festive restaurant in a department store downtown we both loved as teenagers. She shared (for the first time) she did NOT really like Christmas because her Mom had made it miserable. Why? Her Mom was a home-ec teacher and tried to create the PERFECT Christmas and never did….and made everyone feel crappy because things never measured up.

    My Mom and Dad were both performers; Mom a coloratura soprano doing a Messiah and Dad a ballet dancer doing a Nutcracker every Christmas of my childhood. Grandma carted the six kids around to our own Christmas pageants and performances. Christmas was busy! So Christmas means singing or attending concerts or worship service or Nutcracker performances to me. Everything else is besides the point.

    I’m attending a Lessons and Carols service this afternoon–directed by my own son (the THIRD generation to be a professional church musician)–and after that, everything else is gravy!

    Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men is a good way of thinking of this time of year. And that’s what I wish for you, Grace!

  13. Hugs to you and I am grateful you share your strength and courage with your readers and your characters! I am always suspicious of those perfect Christmas stories. You know, the ones where it’s you silly goose, I am so sorry you misunderstood me! Real $&@% happens, as you said and it is magnified through an almost societal demand to be joyous. Thanks for keeping it real while giving us a HEA to give us hope, make us laugh and give us an escape.

  14. The research on Christmas is very interesting, isn’t it? The findings of a study referenced here

    make a lot of sense. It’s a pretty okay to even great day for most people (especially male people), horrible for a small-but-significant minority, and stressful for a lot of people (particularly female people) who otherwise enjoy it. If I’m remembering right, Americans typically rank it in their top three best days of the year (with only Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July edging it out…interesting, given the focus on gratitude on both of those holidays).

    I love Christmas. Always have. But I have a lot more empathy for my own mother who used to lament what a strain the holiday was on her now that I have my own kids, and it’s on me to “do Christmas” (mostly on me–hubs helps, of course). The kids are small. Let’s see if I still love Christmas in five years, ten years…

    Merry Christmas, everybody!

  15. Having a wonderful family helps to make the holidays bright and joyful. I’m so grateful for what we have that I try to give to St Jude, my church and a local charity. Reading a Christmas story of yours adds to the merry hohoho!

  16. The Christmas holiday has always been one I love, although traditions are changing. It took me a while to realize that those ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’which are self-imposed (unlike moving before the baby comes) can be let go, maybe sadly, maybe happily, but nevertheless gracefully let go so that we can be open to what works for us, what nutures our soul and keeps us moving forward. This year I have assured granddaughter (now 300 miles away instead of 50) that gifts are in the mail, and if the weather permits, Grandma and Grandpa will be there… but if it doesn’t, our love is in our hearts and wrapped up with the presents and we will share our laughter and smiles on Skype.

  17. I love just spending time with my daughter, who is the only family member nearby. This year I’m laid up with an injury and I just lost my job, so my gift will be just spending time together.
    I’ve had Christmases like the one you described (and this is one of them). Thank you for a spirit of giving and for the chance to win! Merry Christmas!

  18. Christmas always is a time of hope for me, especially when I see the joy of the season in my young grandsons’ eyes. I always take a few moments late on Christmas Eve to just sit by myself in the quietness and look at the tree. Many times I’ll take off my glasses to blur the lights (yes, I’m that nearsighted!) and give thanks for my many blessings and wish for a safe and healthy new year.

  19. Your books set during Christmas are some of my favorites. I don’t personally celebrate the holiday, although I do give gifts and visit friends and family. As a single person, this is a pretty trying time of year honestly. Sophie was my favorite. Sometimes the joy and festivities and unrelenting good cheer is overwhelming. I try volunteering at places to help people who have it worse than I. Giving others a hand makes me feel better.

  20. Thank you for sharing some of your struggles. It’s good to know other people don’t always have a jolly time at Christmas but persevere through the tough times. For me it’s definitely about the birth of my Savior and reflecting on my blessings and cherishing good memories but also trying to help others who are struggling for whatever reason.

  21. I just recently moved and am learning this new community’s holiday celebrations. As an introvert I am taking baby steps to be honest. I have decorated my tree and house, mailed cards and made plans to see my small family on Xmas day. I am content.

  22. Living with a bipolar husband who cycles at Christmas has always been a challenge. The one thing I always try to remember is to always be kind. You never know what burdens other people carry.

  23. For decades, family Christmases came in threes. Our own with our two daughters at 3AM on Christmas Eve when my husband’s night shift ended, Christmas Eve day with my family and Christmas Day with my husband’s family. They were warm and wonderful and exhausting. I miss them. As time passed, our parents died, our children married, had children of their own and eventually great grands arrived. Christmas gatherings with our extended families gradually fell away as their families grew. Our “branch“ exchanged the snow-covered Midwest for the deserts of the Southwest. Our once-tiny family Christmas is now our only gathering. First hosted at our home, it is now at our older daughter’s 300 miles away. We stay at a favorite nearby hotel that provides a quiet haven. We host our daughter and her husband for dinner at her favorite restaurant on Christmas Eve. It’s the perfect way to relax and enjoy some adult time before we all adjourn to her house where her adult children and the great grands make the most of Christmas Eve stockings with new PJs and a book for each of us. We all return early on Christmas morning to open presents – lots and lots of presents. Once the wrappings are cleared away, we brunch and then spend the day enjoying each other indoors and out as weather permits. Knowing how busy our daughter and her daughter are, I bring the homemade cookies, fudge and other treats that “sustain” us through the afternoon. We share a home-cooked family dinner in the evening, with the family men taking care of the cleanup.

    Our family Christmas has changed as our family and our lives changed. The one constant is “family“ which changes and yet is the same. Instead of the extended family Christmases, the “clans” gather over the summer when conflicts with school and work and bad weather are far fewer. We’ve accepted that it’s less about the day and more about the family.

  24. I always have a busy Christmas. I have 7 grandchildren and things can get chaotic. My daughter’s laugh at me because I have to watch a Christmas Story every year.

  25. I love Christmas everything seems brighter and more colorful. People seem nicer. I volunteer at my church community dinner on Christmas day. I am known as the pie lady, because I am in charge of the desserts.

  26. I regret that there is so much pressure for each Christmas to be The Best Christmas Ever. That is totally unrealistic. For me, this is a religious holiday first and a chance to spoil the kids a little second. (We have 6, so spoiling doesn’t happen much.) Everything else is way behind in priority.

  27. I’m with you on Christmas! Exhortations about the joys of the seasons exacerbate the feelings of depression for folks who cannot for whatever reason, ie, loss of loved ones, economic circumstances, or social situations , participate in all this “Joy”! Doing good deeds, being kind to everyone we meet are ways to address these issues, and keep our sanity, but, for some of us, diving into a good book with a hot cup of tea is the perfect way to escape the obligation of “joy”! Thanks for all your books, you my dear are a life saver!

  28. Over the holidays, it’s always a mixture of nostalgia and reflection. I try to think about people I’ve lost, and be grateful for Christmases when they were with me. But it’s always hard, too, because the end of the year reminds me of endings and the uncertainty of beginnings. So finding comfort in the trappings of Christmas: the music, the movies, the food, etc.—that is an important part of healing the grief of endings. If that makes sense.

    Love your books, and your own personal story, Grace. You are such an inspiration.

  29. My father ran a pharmacy/drug store. Growing up, we spent the month of December at work with him, decorating, running stuff from front to back, having snacks (and supper) in the back room or office, wrapping gifts and later even running the store for the four emergency hours required on Christmas day.

    Since I have been married, Christmas has been something dfferent every year.. I plan as far in advance as I can and then hold on!

    And my husband closes his office between Christmas and New Years, and if possible we leave town.

  30. Christmas is a time for our family to gather and also a time to for us consider others who are struggling – with loneliness, depression, and isolation. With a bit of reflection, we are able to reach out to folks who may need us.

  31. Through the years christmas season to me has always involved family,when I was child it was my parents my sister’s my cousins aunts and uncles coming together and sharing what (by today’s standards) a limited selection of food and drink.But all enjoyed what we had, nothing was wasted.It was a special time for young and old.Sadly my parents and various other relatives are no longer with us ,the time that has passed has brought different expectations and Christmas now seems a mad rush to purchase all the latest gadgets and spent the rest of the year paying for them.I am fortunately still involved in the festivities with my family and their children my daughter is the host this year so I can relax and sit in the corner in the chair reserved for Nan.But Nan can still participate in the games and the fun including a quiz .I can always plead my memory is not what it used to be when I get the question wrong.So at the moment Christmas for me is about family.I am aware in a few years it could all be different .I give thanks for what I have.A MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU GRACE AND ALL MY CO_BLOGGERS.

  32. This is supposed to be a low key Christmas this year since we do the larger family Christmas every other year, but even with the small group it brings anticipated stress – I’d just as soon skip the whole thing, but that gets into the ‘what’s wrong, are you ok’ comments. I do enjoy watching the holiday movies, old & new, & books with holiday settings. I was talking to a lady in a store the other day that was on the hunt for gifts based on requests off a giving tree. I’ve done some of those when I worked at a company that set it up, but haven’t seen any locally in a while. I’ll have to look harder to find out where I can help out.

  33. Wow. I had no idea about how the holidays affected foster children. That is so sad and my heart breaks for those children.

  34. It’s interesting to me that those who celebrate Christmas, don’t tend to think about anyone who doesn’t. As a child, I was always embarrassed to celebrate Chanukah around the rest of my classmates who were all Catholic. The few other Jews in my classes kept our heads down and tried to remain inconspicuous lest we were called out to expose our differentness. In light of what’s happening in the world today’ I’d ask that people who celebrate Christmas not only appreciate those who are less fortunate than themselves, but also challenge themselves to learn about those whose beliefs may be different, but are just as worthy of respect.

    • Thank you for that spectacularly relevant and timely observation. I am sorry your faith was used to ostracize and marginalize you, because that is not what Christmas is supposed to be about. The nuns in my Catholic school asked the Jewish kids to explain Chanukah and the associated rituals (and fun), not as a means of exposing differentness–everybody knew who the Jewish kids were (all three of them)–but as a means of educating the rest of us about other traditions.
      You make me wonder how those Jewish kids felt being called upon as cultural and theological ambassadors at the age of ten, something I hadn’t considered before. If the shoe had been on the other foot–I was one of three Catholic students at a yeshiva–how would I have felt? Probably not any more “included” for having to explain my celebration to a bunch of people who felt no need to explain theirs.

  35. Christmas is about spending time together, our 13 year old son is recovering from a year long illness 3 states away in a children’s hospital and all that matters is getting to him and spending as much time as possible with him.

  36. I had several years of mental meltdowns in December, because of all the “supposed to be doing” this or that’s surrounding the holidays. I actually didn’t enjoy the season anymore. I needed to evaluate what I could actually accomplish and what was just not going to be able to be done. The Christmas cards might not have gone out on time, the tree didn’t get decorated in one session, and I learned to say no to certain people. After this change in thinking, I no longer suffered mental meltdowns. I also found some enjoyment in the holidays again.

  37. I’d add to your lists of pressures at Christmas the unrealistic expectations for the perfect day: gifts, food, behavior – of children, adults, and even pets (yes, I’ve heard people complain about their pets acting like animals during the holidays). If people would (or could) relax and lower expectations for themselves and others, I think there would be more to celebrate on Christmas. I’m far from perfect at the best of times, why should I expect others to be perfect? That doesn’t mean I don’t want people to be happey and get what they want for Christmas and I do enjoy giving to others. Since the kids were yound, we’ve ‘adopted’ kids on the Angel tree at the mall, and donated money and food to different charities as part of the family celebration. Some years we were able to give more than other years, but the kids always got involved in the giving. They enjoyed being Santa’s helpers and spreading the Christmas Spirit.

  38. I try to give to charities (this year my family is getting gifts from several!) and, although it gets a bit hectic, Christmas for me is about spending time with fanily: playing board games, baking delicious food.. It can be a bit overwhelming, but since we don’t spend much time together I try to appreciate it as much as I can 🙂

  39. Thank you, Grace, for reminding me that there are always people who have real problems. Around the holidays I (and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here) tend to get overwhelmed by everything I “need” to get done and forget about others who have serious “needs.” I’ll try to keep them in mind in the midst of the seasonal sensory overload. I feel fortunate that I have a Christmas anthology by my bedside right now with a story of yours in it.

  40. I’ve wondered if many of your characters who are in dire straits, were written with some of the desperate people in mind that you’ve come across in your line of work. You have such a way of writing from the heart, crafting characters with your empathy and understanding. Now I know that you yourself have gone through quite a lot of difficulty, and it makes remembering certain of your characters, especially single parents, all the more realistic. The more I read your blog, the more I am amazed at the life you have lived, and what you have accomplished so far! Thank you for sharing your story, and stories, with us. I wish you joy!

  41. Books! I like cozy mysteries, but i love reading your and Mary Balogh’s Christmas stories. Bitter sweet is wonderful!
    Also knitting, puzzles, and baking (giving most of it away, so i only have to eat some)

  42. I loved you blog! Yes!! Christmas can be a hard time for a lot of people!
    I was the pregnant single mother, he was born January 2. Much later we were the family with dad in prison. One year we were the family that lost a lot in a house fire. Another Christmas we just brought my husband home from Rehab Hospital after a very severe closed head injury. Another Christmas my husband was again in Rehab hospital after another very, very severe head injury.
    Christmas doesn’t always bring happiness. I still celebrated our Lord’s birthday as best I could.
    It is wonderful that you help with these charities.
    Thank you for a chance to win your prize.

  43. Grace, if I had known you when you were pregnant, I would have brought you homemade Christmas Cookies. (Mine are really good, because I only use butter, and I only use REAL extracts) Anyway, see what shows you watch on TV and what Authors you read and I think Gosh, I just have the same taste in many things with this woman, I wish I knew her personally. I love that you like gentle men as your heroes. I love that they are deeper in thought than they are in verbage. And I REALLY want you to have a splendid and loving Christmas, and will HOPE that you have not already chosen and sent copies of “Not the Duke’s Darling” to all three winners yet. But if you did, I truly hope you still have a Wonderful Holiday Season.

  44. I used to love Christmas. Then I spent my 20s poor with children. The stress of trying to not disappoint your children when tv drills consumerism into them every moment was terrible.

    Now, not poor, I still stress at Christmas. My solution? Enjoy Thanksgiving and then ignore Christmas as long as I can, spend 3 hours on Amazon a week before Christmas, and done. Not the best coping mechanism but it is what I do.

  45. My husband really ticked me off last Wednesday so I decided to buy myself two Christmas presents. They weren’t big things, but I knew they would make me happy. I love Christmas and my husband absolutely hates it, so it is a big of a juggling act. We adopted two adult dogs in August, so I said I wanted the boys to have a good Christmas. I hoping we will go by Petsmart.

  46. I do enjoy Christmas. I admit that it’s not my favorite holiday. Yet, having five grandchildren helps make each year’s experience memorable and quite wonderful. Holiday buildup for Hubby and me includes both charity donations and church volunteering. That keeps us balanced out with the holiday decorating and other activity around the house! Thanks for the post and giveaway.