A Moveable Feast

All Dressed up For Christmas

In 1963, I had been dating my then-boyfriend for a little over a year when he invited me home to Las Vegas to spend Christmas with his family. My mother, realizing I would be missing our family’s Christmas celebration, reached into her apron pocket (Yes, Evie wore aprons!) and pulled out an old Scandinavian custom—Lil Jul Aften, aka Little Christmas Eve.

According to her Lil Jul Aften was celebrated the Sunday before Christmas. It included a ham dinner with all the fixings—scalloped potatoes, sweet potatoes with tiny marshmallows, and, of course, that Scandinavian staple—Lefse! (If you’re not familiar with Lefse, think of a flour tortilla made with mashed potato dough and lots of regular flour, too.)

Traditionally, one present is opened on Lil Jul Aften. The others have to wait until Christmas Day. The reality has turned out to be that anyone who can’t be present on Christmas Day gets to open his or her gifts the Sunday before. Our first Lil Jul Aften was celebrated that year, and off I went to Vegas. It wasn’t until the next year that I learned my future husband had to be home with his mother at Christmas Day NO EXCEPTIONS!

So Lil Jul Aften became my Christmas with my family. One year while I was teaching in Tucson we had a family enclave there with two side-by-side, inexpensive rentals in the barrio that were occupied by my husband and me, my younger brother, Arlan, and his roommate, Whitey, along with my sister, her husband, and their two kids. We shared rent and grocery expenses as well as cooking and clean up chores. After four years of living at Pima Hall, sharing tasks like that made perfect sense. That year, on the day scheduled for Lil Jul Aften, there was a serious snowstorm, and the roads between Tucson and Bisbee were closed. Our father had been in Tucson for a meeting, so he was there, but the rest of the family couldn’t make it. We had prepared plenty of food, so we ended up inviting friends and neighbors to come help eat it.

While living in Phoenix and carrying on the tradition, I kept my daughter—a second grader—home from school one day to help make that year’s Lefse. It tasted fine, but boy was it ugly! When the cleaning lady came the next day and saw the layer of white dust covering the red tile floor throughout the house, she looked around and said, “What happened? Was there an explosion?” That year I was short on counter space, so the buffet was laid out partially in the kitchen and partially in the laundry room, but it was Lil Jul Aften, and it still worked.

Once my first husband and I divorced, Lil Jul Aften became Christmas with my kids before they flew off to Vegas to be with their father and Mary Grandma. The first Christmas after Bill and I married, Lil Jul Aften was canceled completely because on that particular Sunday we were off on our three-day honeymoon, but it’s been a staple of our family holiday season in the thirty-five years since. As we’ve added in spouses, grandkids, ex-spouses, in-laws, out-laws, and now great grandkids, my mother’s wisdom has benefited us all. People can come to Lil Jul Aften and then be wherever they need or want to be for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And added benefit is that on the Sunday before Christmas, if you happen to run out of something, the stores are all OPEN! Not only that, once Lil Jul Aften is over, my holiday responsibilities are done.

This year, of course, things are entirely different. Our house is decorated as in—all dressed up with nowhere to go. This week, when we should be making preparations for the holiday onslaught, we’re not, and I confess I’m a bit blue about that. Let’s just say more than a bit!


But then, when I was grumbling about that to my daughter she reminded me. “Hey, remember the windstorm Lil Jul Aften when we celebrated by candlelight? And what about the year of the snowstorm when no one could make it up the hill to your house? That year we had Lil Jul Aften on New Year’s Day.” In other words—shape up! At times I believe Evie’s common-sense wisdom may have skipped a generation.

Jeanne T.’s pep talk was just what the doctor ordered for me to make an attitude adjustment. So this year, I’m officially moving Lil Jul Aften to next summer. We’ll celebrate Christmas in July the way they do in South Africa—in shorts and flip-flops with steaks on the grill.

After all, as I learned long ago, Lil Jul Aften really is a moveable feast, and I’m going to sit back and enjoy it.

As I send this Lil Jul Aften greeting to all my readers, I’m wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays a little earlier than usual so you, too, can have time to create your own moveable feast because, as per usual, Evie was right.


42 thoughts on “A Moveable Feast

    • Ted, I volunteer at the ICS Food Bank with Bob Hendricks. We were just talking about you yesterday. I asked my husband, Frank Molina, about the referee incident years ago. He said he just vaguely remembers something about it. I must say, he loves telling stories of high school days in Tombstone.

  1. I love your decorations. My family is scattered this year, but I have a small tree up. Growing up on a farm in Iowa Christmas was a special day for foods only served at Christmas. Lutfisk and ostakaka a custard pudding that was baked. Mixed nuts and ribbon candy bought only once a year. Oranges in our stockings hung by the stove. We did not have a fireplace. Good memories. I hope you have a blessed holiday season.

  2. I never knew or celebrated Lil Jul Aften and all of my grandparents came to Wisconsin from Norway. I love lefsa. Am going to make krumkake this weekend.
    We always had lefsa and lutefisk for Christmas Eve.

  3. Happy Holidays Judy and Bill. Thank you for your story about Lil Jul Aften. I wish I had known that years ago. My husbands grandparents came to the US from Sweden. His grandmother celebrated something that might have been Lil Jul Aften with her children. It is unfortunate that she and her daughter in law did not get along. I think an important family tradition was lost because of their fueding natures. Your Jeanne T just naturally reminds us that we have good memories to remember and better times are coming. Thank you for sharing her with me/us. This year’s Christmas will be one we certainly remember. I am going to share the idea of a moveable feast and Christmas in July with my family. Thank you for your posts that offer humor and hope in this difficult time.

  4. Dear Judy and Bill,
    Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and Happy New Year!! For many years now I’ve had to adjust our moveable feast around my grown kids schedules and it works fine for me. They come and go on their own schedule but the feasting is perpetual. I guess that’s why my New Years resolution always includes “weight-loss” ;D

  5. I was lucky in that my parents and in-laws lived only 2 miles from each other and 13 miles from us. No ‘having’ to travel far to visit them!

    Merry Christmas to you and Bill and the rest of your gang!

  6. Although I am Swedish/Norwegian we didn’t celebrate Lil Jul Aften, but for years my mom worked for our church and of course couldn’t be home for Christmas. Then later she and I both worked for different police departments and getting Christmas of was pretty much out of the question or we could get time off together. We also took to celebrating Christmas at different times. It really isn’t the holiday that makes any day special, it is the people who you love, and who love you.

    Merry Christmas to you and all the people you love and who love you!

  7. Thank you Judy, what an inspiration! I love the moveable feast idea! We are planning a big family gathering next summer as well to make up for a missed wedding and a college graduation. Here’s hoping for a happy New Year!

  8. Our family is spread across four states and seven cities. We now have four generations and a variety of work schedules to accommodate. So we’ve created a Thankful Christmas. We gather some Saturday or Sunday in mid-November. The foods are all in the kitchen, but…Thanksgiving dishes and decorations are in the dining room and Christmas in the living room. People can move around as they wish until it is time for opening presents around the tree, where we all crowd together.
    Unfortunately, this year didn’t work out. Instead, we Zoomed on Thanksgiving and we’ll do that again next week. Happy Holidays to everyone! Stay safe.

  9. This REALLY hit home. So good. We live south of Tucson and were wondering what Christmas would look like! So happy Christmas in July. Since it is so hot in Tucson in July, we should celebrate Christmas in May!!!

  10. Celebrate being alive and virus-free and look forward to next year! I’ll be enjoying the day reflecting on the positive things in my life (I’m alone) and going through pictures of past happier Christmases when I had a husband and three young boys. No matter what, the sun WILL rise the next day and we’ll go on.

  11. I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday–even if it is a long distance one. After all, we are all learning to zoom this year! It is not my favorite, but better than nothing…. By the way, I have a new insight to “Happy Holidays” . It was pointed out to me that it is acknowledgement that there are more holidays being celebrated this time of year than just Christmas. So it is not a rejection of Christianity, but a greeting to all. I like that a lot–there is way too much nastiness around just now.

  12. What a wonderful idea. I made double time working in surgery on major holidays and that extra money paid for our Christmas. One year we all had the flu, so Christmas was celebrated when we recovered. You are right, it isn’t the date on the calendar that matters. Your way would also end the battle of whose house the family goes to this year.

  13. God Jul! Lefse, krumkaka, fattigman, sandbakkkes, berlinerkranser, rosettes, kringle and my favorite kransekake. My mother gave me all the paraphernalia to make lefse for my graduation gift upon receipt of my master’s degree. Then her rosette and krumkaka stuff. She only had a 1 year teaching degree but certainly outsmarted me.
    Long live your traveling Christmas.

  14. Merry Christmas and love your decorations. I only put out a few, its just the
    two of us and a bit lonely but maybe we can do it later in the year like you
    are doing.
    I always enjoy your blog and of course your books.
    Be happy and safe.

  15. Judy you have some beautiful Christmas decorations. I love the bowl of Christmas balls, it must be from the beloved Chuly, my favorite..the mr and mrs Santa, with handbag on her arm…brings a chuckle ! That’s how Mom always looked standing and waiting for my Dad, ha.
    Wishing you and Bill a safe and healthy holiday season; and looking forward to 2021 year with the hope of a little more socializing without fear.
    Blessings! Your work has brought me many Blessings as I remain home with a good read! Thank you.

  16. Judy you have some beautiful Christmas decorations. I love the bowl of Christmas balls, it must be from the beloved Chuly, my favorite..the mr and mrs Santa, with handbag on her arm…brings a chuckle ! That’s how Mom always looked standing and waiting for my Dad, ha.
    Wishing you and Bill a safe and healthy holiday season; and looking forward to 2021 year with the hope of a little more socializing without fear.

  17. Beautiful memories! Thanks for sharing your “Lil Jul Aften“ with us, your readers, and for helping us make an attitude adjustment this year.

  18. Merry movable feast! Thank you so much for this inspiring message. I’m sure a lot of us needed this boost?

  19. Merry movable feast! Thank you so much for this inspiring message. I’m sure a lot of us needed this boost?

  20. A very merry and joyous Christmas to you and Bill regardless of when and how you celebrate. I’m ready for your next book to be on the shelves at the bookstore!

  21. Love your decorations! The Santa Bill and Judy Claus figurines are perfect. I will be stopping of gifts for kids and grandkids, and some will pick them up. But no big family Christmas Eve gathering. Looking forward to next year! Very excited about the vaccines and a glimmer of hope for moving past isolation! Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year to you and Bill.

  22. Merry Christmas to you, also, when ever you celebrate it! We are starting next Monday and celebrating almost a week. My beautiful girls and their families have weathered this strange year pretty well and for that alone there is celebration. We haven’t been able to see many of them but there is Facebook and that helps. I hope your 2021 is healthy, profitable and wonderful.

  23. Thank you! Every week you give us so much to read.
    Merry Christmas to you, Bill, and all your family!
    Now I’m waiting for Joanna!

  24. Hey celebrate whatever, whenever! I celebrated my 70th birthday a month late. I celebrated my 74th sitting in a cemetery at the grave of Santa Teresa Urrea. Celebrations are what, when, and where we make them.

  25. Always enjoy your blogs. Hope you and your family stays healthy and have a Merry Christmas. Next summer does sound like a great idea.

  26. Judy, I love reading of your family traditions and now it’s great reading about the celebrations of your fans. I have this feeling of one big family. Thank you for bringing a positive perspective to our somewhat limited celebrations this year. Merry Christmas and a very happy 2021.

  27. Oh my gosh! I have been wanting lefse so much! I’ve made it once years ago, but think I need to find her recipe. Do you share yours? My mom didn’t use a ricer, but so many recipes say to do so. So I’m debating on ordering one snd try it.

    I miss my mom so much and her great cooking and baking, but there’s just nothing like warm lefse during the holiday.

    Thank you for sharing your memory, wishing you and your family a blessed New Year!

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