Texas Primer: Christmas on the Range

Deck the halls with cedar and red chiles!

Christmas Eve fell as balmy as April,” wrote O. Henry in 1903, thereby summing up the distinguishing mark of a Texas Christmas: it’s hot. O. Henry didn’t know the blizzardy side of the state, living as he did in the south of it, but he knew that few native Texans witness many white Christmases. Most of us resign ourselves to green ones. Unless we live in East Texas, where pines are native, we have to buy our Christmas trees from the Optimist club. Without fireplaces, we lack the proper place to hang stockings, roast chestnuts (well, pecans then), and look for bootprints in the morning ashes. It makes us a little wistful, but we have faced the inescapable truth: the Christmas of Currier & Ives will never be ours.

Luckily, over the years we have created traditions of our own. In the case of the Christmas tree, our forebears used cedar, a pestilent plant that had never before done anyone much good. A. C. Greene recalls childhood trips to fetch “the least lopsided and wind-whipped” tree. If cedar was unavailable, a sapling, tumbleweed, or cactus might serve. Decorations varied—popcorn garlands, candles, strings of red chiles and garlic. On top, of course, was a lone star.

Texas does have mistletoe, which, like cedar, is a nuisance that redeems itself only in December. All over the state you can spot mistletoe snippers gingerly scaling barbed wire to cut bunches from beleaguered mesquites by the side of the road. The familiar shrub with its pearly berries must have provided European immigrants with a welcome reminder of home.

In addition to Christmas kisses under the mistletoe, immigrants brought to Texas a wealth of other customs. The Germans offered Kris Kringle and pfeffernuesses and caroling; around the original German settlements you can still hear the words “stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” sung to a well-known melody. Mexico gave us buÒuelos, poinsettias, and luminarias, those lanterns made of candles inside sand-weighted paper bags. Bright Mexican goods and decorations, which seem so gaudy most of the year, fit right in


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