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Blended cultural traditions form typical Texas Christmas

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Each year, Christmas traditions are observed by Christians around the world. Here in New Braunfels, these traditions vary according to denomination and ancestry, but basically they are a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago.

The Christmas tree idea was brought across the ocean by the first German emigrants to New Braunfels. The candle-adorned fir tree (an evergreen) represented life everlasting and the stars of heaven. Prince Carl found an oak tree on the coast and hung gifts on the limbs for children. (See Sophienburg.com Dec. 13, 2006) Children play a large part in the traditions of Christmas. Their innocence and acceptance of the birth of Jesus present the world with hope for the future. German Christmas carols often speak of the message of joy to the children.

Most Germans began the Christmas season on Dec. 6 with the arrival of St. Nicholas. The night before, the children would hang up a stocking and during the night, if the child was good, they were rewarded with treats but if they had been bad, the stocking contained a switch or coal as a warning. They would then have about 24 days to shape up before Christmas.

A typical German Christmas was celebrated on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. There would be a light supper and then the children would open presents that were under the tree. At midnight there was a candlelight church service with songs in German from the old country.The next day a special meal was planned. In the old days it was usually venison, then roast, then turkey. The food was special because the season was special.

Mexican traditions were slightly varied from the German. New Braunfelsers Adeline and Jacinto Villarreal remember their childhood Christmas traditions in different ways. Adeline grew up in Seguin and Jacinto grew up here in New Braunfels. They both remember the old tradition on the evening of Dec. 24 when friends, neighbors and relatives would gather at one house and make tamales. They would then have a rosary by the nativity scene in the house. The baby Jesus was then placed in the empty crib to remain there until Feb. 2.

In other places, the practice of Las Posadas (the inns) was practiced with an old ceremony commemorating the journey of Mary and Joseph as they sought lodging preparing for the birth of Christ. Locally, Guadalupe Hiraldo will have a Posada at her home for close friends and family. There will be singing, eating, and praying and finally the breaking of a piñata.

The baby she put in the crib has been in her family for many generations.

Adeline stated that traditionally one gift was given to each child. Often it was a special gift that had been put on lay-away. The gifts were not wrapped, but appeared under the tree on the morning of Dec. 25. Other useful gifts like items of clothing were given by relatives. And then the big dinner! The traditional tamales and the chicken that was literally made from scratch – from live chicken to the final cooked product. Favorite Mexican dishes are menudo which is raw beef and posole, a dish made of pork and hominy. Dessert was empañadas (sweet potatoes or pumpkin wrapped in dough). Buñuelos are also a favorite dessert.

As time went on, more and more families from other areas moved to New Braunfels. Santa Claus took the place of St. Nick with the help of writers like Clement Moore and his “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Illustrator Haddon Sundblom solidified the Santa image with his illustrations for Coca Cola. Candlelight on the tree turned to electric lights.

Locally, many of German, Mexican and American descent blended their traditions together.Tamales became a part of the German Christmas. Fröliche Weihnachten blended with Feliz Navidad to form a typical Southwest Texas Merry Christmas.

Christmas traditions -- Adeline and Jacinto Villarreal stand next to their Christmas tree in their home on Mill Street.

Christmas traditions — Adeline and Jacinto Villarreal stand next to their Christmas tree in their home on Mill Street.

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