When I was a little kid growing up on the Miller estate in the Hudson River village of Ossining the spirit of Christmas always arrived on Christmas Day. We were never cajoled in advance by radio and television hucksters. There was no television. We did not own a radio. On Christmas Eve we had to go to bed early and when we woke up early we found a decorated tree in the parlor. From it hung our stockings, each stuffed with an orange and an apple, a candy cane or two and, sometimes, shiny copper pennies. And sometimes it snowed, as it did on Christmas Day, 1926. My father and the older boys quickly completed the morning chores, feeding and milking Mr. Miller's cows, gathering the eggs from Mr. Miller's henhouse and making deliveries to Mr. Miller's customers. My sister helped my mother get us ready for church and when my father and the boys returned we were off on the long walk from our cottage on Mr. Miller's estate to the Church of St. Augustine atop North Highland Avenue. It was especially festive as snow filled the air and the pedestrian church goers cheerfully exchanged holiday greetings. But the walk back home seemed longer when we realized that it was Saturday and we would repeat our post communion hunger march the next day. But our good spirits were revived and Christmas really began with breakfast, a meal that featured eggs from Mr. Miller's special flock (some of whom would later join us for dinner) as well as ham from a piglet purchased in the fall for just this purpose who had enjoyed a few weeks of fondling and fattening and thinking he was the family pet along with a selection of potatoes from Mr. Miller's root cellar, fried to please the taste buds of people from County Cavan.
Breakfast ended late that night after all the uncles and aunts and cousins had passed through, sharing their food and their holiday greetings, their songs, jokes and lies and a nip or two from a bottle no one would admit to having brought to the gathering. Except for a few of the cooks and maids from the mansion who dropped by briefly en route to gatherings of their own, the Millers having gone to Oyster Bay for the Christmas weekend, our guests were not really guests at all, they were my father's brothers and his sisters and our many cousins. They included my widowed Aunt Delia Fleming and her son Robbie with the orphaned children of Mary Ann and Patrick Tierney, Cathy, Anna, Teresa, Mary, Joseph and Charles.
Another widowed sister, Aunt "Mamie" Creighton with children Jack, Tom, Mae and Margaret, arrived just as breakfast became lunchtime as did childless Uncle Tom and wife Kathryn who always seemed happy to see their many nieces and nephews, especially as they said their early goodbyes. Uncle Pete and his Maggie and their kids Jimmy, Pete, Tom, Dan and Mary showed up in mid-afternoon as did Uncle Dan and his Maggie and their Mary, Daniel, Arthur and Robert. They were followed by also widowed Margaret McBride with her brood of Jack, Dorothy, Donald and Margaret. Already in the kitchen helping my mother was the only celibate and seemingly life-satisfied of the Tierney brothers and sisters, Aunt Kate. My father, who seemed to be in charge of protecting the bottle somebody had brought to the party, was having a great time…so were his personal brood of seven, Margaret, Frank, Joe, Eddie, Gene, Buddy, and baby Vera. It was a hectic day but our small cottage received occasional relief when the multiple cousins and a few of the aunts and uncles moved outside for fun in the snow. The cows got their afternoon milking and the chickens were fed on time and everyone got home safe, sound and satisfied that it had been a pretty good Christmas Day. Even my mother who had spent the entire day in the kitchen keeping one eye on the food and another on her baby daughter, the youngest of the family and center of attention.
It had been a great family gathering but it became our last family gathering as individual interests, personal choices, the Great Depression and World War Il influenced life routes through ensuing years. I don't remember receiving presents on that day in 1926 but I do recall the presence of my many cousins, aunts and uncles...some of whom I never saw again.