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âWe just got up on Christmas morningâŠand weâd 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 didnât get many toys. We got necessities.â
Â This was a Christmas memory of Zulieka OâDaniel, who wasÂ born in 1911 and was raised on a farm southwest of Hart, Texas. Zuliekaâs 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 then that it does for children today.
Â Elora Riddle, who lived on a farm to the west of Kress, Texas, recalled that her older siblings traveled into town by buggy to purchase surprise Christmas gifts one year for the younger children in the family: âLucindy and Elbert went to town and it snowed and they couldnât 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.â The morning after Christmas, Elora went to the breakfast table to find a âcelluloid dollâ at her place at the table. âWe were so happy that Santa came back,â she said.
Â In 1920, a third-grader by the name of Mill Boyd of Dumas, Texas, 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 Dumasâ children at once. Mill left that yearâs gathering in delight, carting home with her a âwicker doll buggy and a Schoenhut doll.â According to Mill, the Schoenhut dolls were hand-carved, German-made dolls who were âjointed and had real hair.â In addition to the doll and buggy, Mill also received two boxes of chocolates from her âlittle boyfriendâ that year. Her mother was not pleased and told Mill she was too young to receive the chocolates and would have to return them. Millâs father, however, interjected, âLeave her alone now. Iâm gonna eat that candy.â
Â An even earlier Christmas recollection in 1863 by the daughter of former Texas Governor E.M. Pease, Julia, included a description of the family Christmas tree: Â âNot tall and stately as the German Tannenbaum, but just a common cedar.â 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, Texas, told the Austin American-Statesman that ârealâ eggnog was served in âliberal portionsâ among her family and the neighbors at Christmas. She also noted that âall laws, short of murder and arson, were suspended for the time, and many were the mutual misunderstandings that were settled at Christmastime.â At the end of Christmas day, âdancing 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.
Sources: Remembering Christmas by Louise George, Texasescapes.com; Austin American-Statesman
Texas Senator John Cornyn serves on the Finance, Judiciary, Armed Services and Budget Committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committeeâs Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.