It’s Christmas! What a wonderful season of the year in Texas. Our family has several traditions that we always enjoy. Mainly, Sue makes the Christmas cookies and I eat them while I assemble the outside decorations!
It was Sam Houston, the first President of Texas, who said, “Texas is the finest portion of the globe that has ever blessed my vision!” There was never a reason to question Houston’s loyalty, love, and commitment to the Great State of Texas. Sam Houston moved to Texas in December of 1832. It might be said that Sam Houston was God’s Christmas gift to Texas! Let’s talk about some of the Christmas traditions in historic Texas.
The Southwest Texas Rio Grande town of Presidio claims to be the first place in Texas where Christmas was celebrated. After Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca surveyed West Texas in 1535, several more expeditions crossed the same area. Almost 150 years later, Missionaries Juan Domínguez de Mendoza and Nicolás López established seven missions near La Junta de los Rios, which is where the Rio Concho, the Rio Grande, the Rio Bravo all meet with Cibolo Creek. Later, the town of La Junta was named Presidio by the solders who built a garrison nearby. It was in La Junta, in December of 1683, that Father López celebrated the first Christmas with a service of prayer, worship, and Communion.
When the Germans came to the Hill Country in 1836, they brought with them Christmas customs that dated back to the 16th Century. One of those unique traditions was the tabletop Christmas tree. Most of the ornaments were handmade and included candy, cookies, and small gifts for various family members. Over the years, many families decided to bring in six foot tall trees and placed them on the floor. This gave them room on the tree for accumulated ornaments and space on their table for feasting.
Many German families celebrated Zweite Weihnachten, or Second Christmas. Since Christmas Day was considered sacred, and only involved the immediate family, the new immigrants celebrated the Old World custom of Zweite Weihnachten on the day after Christmas. This commemoration of Christmas reached out to extended family, friends, and neighbors. While Christmas Day celebrations included church attendance, Communion, and prayers, Zweite Weihnachten was much more jovial, and involved food, games, music, and community festivals.
Have you visited the George Ranch Historical Park in Richmond at Christmastime? Perhaps you have even participated in the Campfire Christmas. They offer an amazing re-creation of how Christmas was celebrated along the Texas Gulf Coast as far back as the 1830’s. Some of the traditions presented include the custom of leaving a shoe out overnight for St. Nicholas to fill with candy. Sounds fun! They also share reminders of the British, Mexican, and Polish cultures to provide the full flavor of Historic Texas.
I have only scratched the surface of how Historic Texans celebrated Christmas. Today, with so many cultures calling Texas home, the possibilities are endless. But because the Texas cowboy is so important to our history, some Christmas wreaths are actually made of barbed wire draped around an old boot. Front yard decorations may include longhorns pulling Santa’s sleigh across the sandy loam, surrounded by Huisache bean pods, cactus, and bluebonnets.
And no Texas Christmas dinner would be complete with tamales, tacos, and enchiladas. Our friends from Africa cook Texas Braai, glazed roast gammon, and Southwest tofu. Of course, all cultures must have Bar-B-Que turkey, Cajun fried catfish, citrus from the Rio Grande, and pecans from South Texas. And for dessert? Original Homemade Vanilla Blue Bell Ice Cream! MERRY TEXAS CHRISTMAS!