Family & Friends

Right-Sizing Christmas Eve

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.

I right-sized Christmas Eve in our family calendar. But something was missing. Ah. . . there was no stress.


Years ago, I laid claim to Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year, as the family holiday I wanted for all the children to be home together. I pointed out to them that there were 364 other days of the year and many holidays that could be co-opted by other family members. But not this one. I love having all the children home, setting the table with china and crystal, decorating the tree, filling the house with gifts, smelling the pine and fir from trees and wreaths, listening to Christmas music, and relishing the delicious chaos of young children racing up and down stairs with the family dog close behind, while I prepare the traditional meal. It is Christmas chaos and I love it.

Our children are all grown up now with busy adult lives shared with others who too want a Christmas Eve celebration. This was the first year that we won’t have Christmas Eve in our home. Two sons live on the West Coast now and distance and schedules prevent them from being home. Another son needed to share Christmas Eve with a parent who would unexpectedly be in New York for other social commitments.

When I am faced with obstacles that keep me from getting my way, I confess that my first response is always to look for a solution. But, this year, there was no solution to the loss of Christmas Eve at our house. However, the West Coast children had been given vacation the first week of December and were coming home to visit friends and family.



I decided to stop pouting and instead right-size the holiday calendar along with my expectations of owning a holiday. So, we held Christmas Eve this past Saturday, December 9th. Mother nature rewarded me for my adult behavior with the first snow of the year, creating a photo-shopped perfect “Dreaming of a White Christmas” event. When the children arrived, adults and young ones, the snow was already in pristine drifts. The boughs of the trees, now bereft of leaves, were white. The tall pines that ring the property looked more like Christmas trees than any I had ever decorated. Sleds were pulled out and the men and one young boy drove to the local isolated golf club where untouched snow-covered hills were designed for sledding. They apparently became 5th grade boys again, taking risks that alarmed me, as the six year-old told me the tales upon their return.

Since it wasn’t really Christmas Eve, I did not put up a tree and this right-sizing choice proved liberating. I did not have to spend hours selecting ornaments from the Christmas storage bins in advance or replacing lost wire bits that attach each ornament to the tree. I did not have to untangle the miles of tiny white Christmas tree lights and find the one light that was burned out or broken, in order to make the entire string of lights work.

And the truth is, I did not have to expend emotional energy trying to get the many adult children to decorate the tree while I managed the preparation of the difficult Christmas meal.

This year, I had help in the kitchen, which gave me more time to sit with a two year old girl and hear about her earlier morning meeting with Santa. I had time to visit with the adult daughters who are in my life because our sons chose wisely. I got to be present in conversations in this faux Christmas Eve since I did not have to rush around chopping, stirring, checking on the roast and praying over the popovers.



We exchanged gifts before Christmas Eve dinner. Right-sizing Christmas Eve gave everyone permission to choose fewer but especially thoughtful Christmas presents. No large boxes for anyone and only small gifts for young children who expect Santa to do the major work in this department.



Dinner was as festive as if it were our Christmas Eve meal. The roses and pine cones in the centerpiece with red candles were just the same as they always are. The light emanating from the fire and the candles was enough to illuminate the view of our Christmas card wonderland visible through the windows in the dining room. The menu was the same. The Christmas crackers with paper crowns and silly jokes were the same.



But something was missing. Ah. . . there was no stress. No one had to drive to the next station in their holiday frenzy, either that night or early the next morning. Everyone chose to stay over. The house was as I always imagined it would be: overfull, filled with adults playing board games until the early hours, children watching a Christmas movie with a favorite aunt, and The Husband and I, happily in bed by 10 p.m.

I have right-sized Christmas Eve in our family calendar now. I do not need it to to be the special night celebrated in our religious calendar. The solution I found this year to resolve my grief at losing Christmas Eve with family is a new tradition that I plan to keep. Christmas Eve will be whenever the family can be together at our house in December.

Merry Christmas from our house to yours.


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  • Babette December 15, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Your story may be the best one I have read this December! Instead of stressing about possibilities you celebrated reality. I loved it. Thank you for sharing.

  • L. Gibbons December 13, 2017 at 9:15 am

    I just love this story.

  • Eileen Allen December 12, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    We loved spending time celebrating this special holiday with the family! I think it really was the best “Christmas Eve”!

  • Dr. Pat December 12, 2017 at 9:39 am

    Dear Mickey,
    Everyone at WVFC enjoys a virtual hug!
    I hope that your holiday is stress free and joyful.
    Dr. Pat

  • Mickey M. December 11, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Oh, my, yes, indeed. The perfect ‘Christmas Eve’, activities, and Christmas ‘meal’. Thank you so much for sharing your family’s, families’?, story with us all. Happy, Merry, Christmas, New Year, holidays to you and yours. May I give you all a virtual hug?

    • Anita D December 11, 2017 at 2:17 pm

      Loved your article on Right-Sizing Christmas Eve. Dr. Pat may I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. XOXOXO

  • B. Elliott December 11, 2017 at 9:25 am

    How lovely! A brilliant solution to a problem many families have . . . and handled with goodwill and aplomb!