Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

There are many of us for whom the secular Christmas is fraught with landmines of memories. In our dysfunctional ways we learn to manage these memories. We avoid the holiday, we suffer through it, or we make it an MGM spectacular event. I chose the Hollywood option.

I loved making Christmas special when I was a young wife and mother. The trees could never be tall enough, the lifetime collection of ornaments, each with a story, could never be enough to decorate each year’s tree in order to fill my sons’ memory banks with joy.

There was the Christmas when we lived in a townhouse on Madison Avenue. The parlor had heavy double wooden doors … just like in the Nutcracker. I had invited close friends with two daughters to share our Christmas morning and brunch. The children were not allowed in the parlor for 36 hours before Christmas morning, and the guests had been instructed to arrive early so that we could open our presents together. My husband and I had decorated the tree in secret, all 12 feet of it. There were Christmas red amaryllis on the mantle, a fire in the fireplace and secreted away that morning: a string quartet.

Two boys, ages 7 and two and a half, could not wait until the heavy doors were opened. The music began, the fragrance of the tree and the snap and warmth of the fire in full glory, and piles of presents and a Christmas of memories greeted them as they gasped in wonder. One for Hollywood and Mama.

There were many memorable Christmas mornings. After we bought our picture-perfect house in Canada, we often spent Christmas week there. The village of Knowlton looked like a Christmas card. Christmas was always a white Christmas with too much snow, if there can be such a thing on Christmas morning. The sun room was designed to hold a 12-foot tree. All the ornaments were carefully moved north, where they stayed for the decade of that part of our life.

My favorite Christmas morning in Canada required the care that Patton must have mustered to get the troops to their destination. The house was very old and the boys’ room was beneath an unfinished attic without a floor. I decided that they needed a special room where they could hide from adults and that it should be a place for the electric trains I had been collecting for them, piece by piece, each Christmas.

Adam, my dear friend to this day and constant companion in adventure and home design, created a space large enough for a 9 -by-6-foot elevated train wonderland. John, the Canadian carpenter, translated this vision into reality. A model train specialist came from Montreal to set up each boy’s train. The trains ran in different directions on different size tracks.

There was a hidden trap door in the hall outside my sons’ bedroom. John had attached a rope to the trap door that was then covered with tape on the ceiling. On Christmas morning there were very few gifts under the tree and two very perplexed and slightly annoyed boys. The parents then suggested that the boys go upstairs to put on warm clothes so that we could take a walk. The rope attached to the trapdoor was now swinging suggestively back and forth, almost reaching the floor.

I will never forget the moment when one of the boys pulled the rope and the stairs came slowly down from the ceiling. “What is this?” they wanted to know. “Climb the stairs!” we told the boys. The trains were running with smoke from the engines. The village in the center of the train town was full of lit buildings along with a church and its steeple. “Where did this come from?” they demanded to know. “Santa came just for you,” we replied.

Memories for how Christmas could be, in its magical way, were a gift I had to give my children. They are now adults and know how to make holidays special. We celebrated Christmas early this year, since the children had plans to be with in-laws and step families. On Sunday night, Baxter, my 26-year-old son, gave me the gift of our Christmas dinner. He did the shopping, forgetting nothing. He made the standing rib roast, and then astonished me with a jus that was done with such ease, I was amazed. He made the special mashed potatoes with celery root and the wreath of broccoli and cocktail tomatoes.

When I asked if we were having our Christmas popovers, he showed the emotional evolution that had occurred in just one generation. “Do I look insane?” he asked. Yes, the dinner with family was perfect, and all prepared by a son who loved the food and all the steps in the production of that meal. There were no popovers, but there was no disorder or chaos in Baxter’s kitchen.

On this Christmas Eve I will be at the church service at Marble Collegiate Church, here in New York. The music will be astonishing, the church festive and welcoming. Tonight I will leave the secular Christmas behind and remember what Christmas means. I will give thanks for many things, but most of all, that I was able to give my children memories that they can pass on to their children.

The most wonderful gift that I have received this year is the certainty that my memories with my sons at Christmas have all been wonderful.

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