Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Christmas in Rural Texas

Every Christmas growing up in Texas we had some traditions that are somewhat rare these days, even here:

·         We eat Mexican food (technically Tex-Mex) on Christmas Eve, usually enchiladas (but I think that is just my father’s preference.)  I do not know where this came from, but know of many Texans who follow the same tradition.  I did find a story on the Web that says this derives from the Mexican tamale making family event called la tamalada, wherein the families caught up, resolved arguments, and aired differences prior to the meal, thus allowing everyone to enjoy the holiday.  Tamales are easy to make, easy to store, and are inexpensive for large gatherings.  Enchiladas, not so much

·         My grand-parents seemed to think Santa owned a citrus grove in south Florida, I think.  For some reason, they filled a large portion of our Christmas stocking with oranges.  As kids, we thought this was a waste of space that could have been better used for candy, but who was gonna argue with the big man in Red?  He had this list, see…  Anyway, citrus was sometimes augmented by apples and (gasp!) a banana (now we were talking!) This actually was my first inkling that all was not as it seemed, Santa-wise: I recognized a blemish on an orange that was in the fruit dish the day before, and wondered why Santa gave us our own fruit?  I asked Mimi about this fruit fetish not too long ago, and it seems that this comes out of their experiences during the Great Depression, when fruits were a luxury in North Texas farm country, and yet were inexpensive enough that they were available for Christmas.  In their childhood, fruit (presumably from The Rio Grande Valley) was a rare treat, and thus fondly remembered.  On the other hand, fruit was common in my childhood, and I was less than impressed (sorry, Mimi!)

·         We made Nestle Tollhouse cookies from scratch.  Mimi would double the recipe to get a single batch, as my brother and I usually ate half of the dough (and we are still alive to tell about it, so take that, FDA and your dire package warnings!).  We might spend half of the afternoon on these cookies, making batch after batch to share with relatives.  I liked taking a half dozen to my great grandmother, ‘Grandma Mac’ in the nursing home.  She sure had a sweet tooth!  (This also gave me a chance to sneak her some hot sauce.  Grandma Mac loved her hot foods, but her doctors did not like her to have them.  Grandad and I worked together on this: after all, in 1977, who would search an eight year old for prohibited substances being smuggled into a nursing home?)  I suspect that this was some of Grandad’s particular humor, used to engage a small boy into being interested in a trip to see his mother

·         Mimi and my mother both made chocolate fudge at different times for Christmas, many involving so-called ‘help’ from the kids.  I will admit that my motivation was to the same as making cookies: sneaking (like they did not know) a taste, and eventually getting to lick a beater or the bowl (beaters were a sure deal, but the bowl depended on if Dad was out of the house or perchance taking a nap!)  I remember dropping fudge into a cup of cold water to tell if it was done, and I remember scorched batches that no one liked.  This could be a disaster of biblical proportions, as we might not have the ingredients for a second batch (and/or the cook might have not been motivated again by that point)

·         In later years (the middle eighties) we would all pile into a car and drive around to look at Christmas lights.  Sometimes we even drove to remote towns if there was a particularly good (read: bright and colorful) display offered.  Family visited and discussed lives in these car rides: there were no cell phones, after all!

·         Christmas usually involved hunting at one point or another.  This was for the big game: Texas White Tailed Deer.  In our family, we were what you might call subsistence hunters: we hunted for food and somewhat less for sport.  You see, the total cost of a deer you process yourself might be a single bullet, the way we hunted.  You usually hunted for free (although we did have deer leases at times), and waited until you had a sure shot.  Many a deer were brought to the table with Grandad’s 300 Savage (Model 99 lever action) and a well-timed and well-aimed single bullet. (I killed two deer at different times last season with that same gun, but took three bullets… must be slipping in my old age!)  We would choose our deer carefully, if there was more than one offered, as no one wanted to field dress and process two deer at once.  You see, we gutted the deer and divided the meat into quarters.  This meat went into ice chests where we kept it cool (draining the bloody water periodically and refilling the ice) to get rid of the wild taste.  (You northerners might be wondering why we would put a deer on ice: just consult an online almanac as to average December temperatures in Texas for your explanation)  Then we cut the deer up ourselves.  Early on this required butcher paper, but Ziploc freezer bags revolutionized the process.  Then we ate the meat from the freezer throughout the year

·         My wife’s family does the Christmas ‘Tree’ present distribution by handing out all the gifts, with recipients tearing into wrapping as soon as possible, everyone at once.  I was always confused by this practice: how do you get to see what everyone got?  (I now believe that in the Tex-Deutch German culture the point is that ‘what they got’ is none of your business: if they want to show you what they got they will make a point of it!)  Not in our house.  We methodically handed out all of the gifts, and everyone waited to begin the unwrapping process.  Then we determined who would start, and which direction around the living room we would proceed, one person and one gift at a time.  Sometimes the oldest in the room went first, but often this was determined by largest number of gifts (the kids) going first.  Then everyone viewed the gift, made appropriate comments and expressed appreciation, all in order.  Then the paper was either preserved for future gifting, or (if a child opened the gift) thrown into a 30 gallon garbage bag strategically pre-positioned in the center of the room for the purpose.  This process proceeded until the last gift was opened and the last scrap of paper thrown away.  Once I had my own kids, this started the annual battery installation activities, as it seems that anything anyone gives a small child requires power.  Usually in a type of battery we just ran out of.  Many years I raided small appliances, flashlights and garage door openers to keep the peace and quiet required for another Christmas tradition: football on TV

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