Good lessons to be learned from sim­ple Texas Christ­mas

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS -

‘We

just got up on Christ­mas morn­ing … and we’d usu­ally have an ap­ple and or­ange in our stock­ings. That was about the only time we ever had or­anges. I can smell an or­ange to this day, and it al­ways makes me think of Christ­mas. We didn’t get many toys. We got ne­ces­si­ties.”

This was a Christ­mas me­mory of Zulieka O’Daniel, who was born in 1911 and was raised on a farm south­west of Hart in the Texas Pan­han­dle. Zulieka’s Christ­mas morn­ings were much the same for many other Texas chil­dren in the early 1900s. While the set­tings were sim­ple and the gifts lim­ited, Christ­mas in­spired the same an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­cite­ment that it does for chil­dren to­day.

Elora Rid­dle, who lived on a farm west of the Pan­han­dle town of Kress re­called that her older sib­lings trav­eled into town by buggy to pur­chase sur­prise Christ­mas gifts one year for the younger chil­dren in the fam­ily: “Lucindy and El­bert went to town and it snowed and they couldn’t get back on Christ­mas Eve. We hung our stock­ings on Christ­mas Eve and Papa and Mama put an or­ange and an ap­ple, nuts and candy in, so we had that for Christ­mas and we thought that was all we were go­ing to get.” The morn­ing af­ter Christ­mas, Elora went to the break­fast ta­ble to find a “cel­lu­loid doll” at her place at the ta­ble. “We were so happy that Santa came back,” she said.

In 1920, a third-grader named Mill Boyd of Du­mas, also in the Pan­han­dle, at­tended a com­mu­nity Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tion at her school­house. In­stead of in­di­vid­ual Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions at home, the en­tire com­mu­nity would gather at the school­house, and Santa would visit all of Du­mas’ chil­dren at once. Mill left that year’s gath­er­ing in de­light, cart­ing home with her a “wicker doll buggy and a Schoen­hut doll.” Ac­cord­ing to Mill, the Schoen­hut dolls were hand­carved, Ger­man-made dolls who were “jointed and had real hair.” In ad­di­tion to the doll and buggy, Mill also re­ceived two boxes of choco­lates from her “lit­tle boyfriend” that year. Her mother was not pleased and told Mill she was too young to re­ceive the choco­lates and would have to re­turn them. Mill’s fa­ther, how­ever, in­ter­jected, “Leave her alone now. I’m gonna eat that candy.”

An even ear­lier Christ­mas rec­ol­lec­tion in 1863 by the daugh­ter of former Texas Gov. E.M. Pease, Ju­lia, in­cluded a de­scrip­tion of the fam­ily Christ­mas tree: “Not tall and stately as the Ger­man Tan­nen­baum, but just a com­mon cedar.” Ju­lia re­called that the ladies of the house­hold spent the weeks lead­ing up to Christ­mas pre­par­ing the trim­mings for the tree, in­clud­ing string­ing pop­corn. Ju­lia noted that be­cause of the Civil War, goods had been block­aded from the North and all food and cloth­ing that year had to be made at home.

In the 1890s, Mrs. W.H. Thax­ton of Onion Creek told the Austin Amer­i­canS­tates­man that “real” eggnog was served in “lib­eral por­tions” among her fam­ily and the neigh­bors at Christ­mas. She also noted that “all laws, short of mur­der and ar­son, were sus­pended for the time, and many were the mu­tual mis­un­der­stand­ings that were set­tled at Christ­mas­time.” At the end of Christ­mas day, “danc­ing was en­gaged in, and the nights were en­livened by the merry strains of the fid­dle (not vi­o­lin), and the calls of the prompter as mer­rily the dance went on far into the night.”

To­day, as many of us find our­selves caught up in the hus­tle and bus­tle of the hol­i­day sea­son, there is some­thing to be said about the sim­plic­ity of Christ­mas past in Texas. May we all take the time to en­joy the small things, the time to­gether with fam­ily and friends, and the real mean­ing of the sea­son. From my fam­ily to yours: Merry Christ­mas, happy hol­i­days and best wishes for a safe and pros­per­ous New Year. Cornyn rep­re­sents Texas in the U.S. Se­nate. He serves on the Fi­nance, Ju­di­ciary, Armed Ser­vices and Bud­get Com­mit­tees.

Texas’ pi­o­neer­ing fam­i­lies didn’t have cherry pickers to dec­o­rate a 40-foot-tall tree. RODOLFO GON­ZA­LEZ / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN 2009

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