Christmas in Pioneer Texas
It’s Christmastime – Jesus is born! What a wonderful season of the year in Texas. It can be sunny and hot, or it can be freezing and cold. Or it can be all of those in one day!
Question: When did churches in pioneer Texas first celebrate Christmas?
The Southwest Texas Rio Grande town of Presidio claims to be the first place in Texas where the Church celebrated Christmas. In 1535, Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca surveyed West Texas. About 150 years later, Missionaries Juan Domínguez de Mendoza and Nicolás López established seven missions near the village of La Junta de los Rios, later named Presidio. It was in La Junta, in December of 1683, that Father López purportedly celebrated the first Christmas in Texas with a service of prayer, worship, and Communion.
When the German church was established in the Hill Country in 1836, they brought with them time-honored 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 inside 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 a sacred time for attending church with the immediate family, the new immigrants celebrated the Old World custom of Zweite Weihnachten on the day after Christmas.
Zweite Weihnachten reached out to extended family, friends, and neighbors. While Christmas Day at church included Bible lessons, Communion, singing carols, and prayers, Zweite Weihnachten was much more jovial, and involved food, games, dancing, and community festivals. It was like an all-day community party with food and games for the whole family!
Have you visited the George Ranch Historical Park at Christmastime? It is located southwest of Richmond, Texas, on FM 762. Perhaps you have even participated in their 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 at George Ranch 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 Christmas in Historic Texas.
In 1893, Larry Chittenden wrote the book, “Ranch Verses.” In it, he included an original poem titled, “The Cowboys Christmas Ball.” Still today, in Anson (Abilene), Texas, you can attend the Cowboys Christmas Ball. 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, while being surrounded by Huisache bean pods, cactus, and bluebonnets.
Since Texas is now home to many cultures, wonder what delicacies the modern Christmas table may offer? Perhaps it would have a Glazed Honey Ham from Lubbock, and West Texas cattle-drive chicken fried steak. It may also feature Texas twice-baked potatoes, with tamales, tacos, and enchiladas.
Our friends from Africa cook Texas Braai, glazed roast gammon (ham), and Southwest tofu. All cultures would definitely have smoked Bar-b-que turkey, Cajun fried catfish, citrus from the Rio Grande, and pecans from South Texas. And for dessert? How about some original homemade Blue Bell vanilla ice cream! MERRY TEXAS CHRISTMAS, Ya’ll!
In all the fun, please remember the true reason for Christmas. It is the powerful story of Christ coming to earth, and is best explained in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Joy to the World!