Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Family, Texas-style

If you’ve ever heard the song “Merry Christmas from the Family” written and performed by Robert Earl Keen, then you probably already know where this column is headed.

Christmas in Texas is far from the classic Currier and Ives print images we’re used to seeing this time of year. Around here, it’s usually 85 degrees with 95 percent humidity and we’re all walking around wearing shorts. Keen, who grew up in Houston, said he never saw a chestnut until he was 30 years old and that was in a picture in a book.

The holiday traditions in Texas are…different.

Oh, we celebrate with Christmas trees, turkeys, gifts and carols. But that’s where the similarities end.

My father loved “real” Christmas trees. He wouldn’t have an artificial tree in the house. Every Friday after Thanksgiving, we’d go out to his mother’s farm in Greenville and cut a tree. Our trees were Eastern red cedars. The smell of cedar still conjures up strong holiday memories for me. I was an adult before I learned that some people consider these trees invasive and destructive. It kind of broke my heart, but I felt less guilty about all those years of cutting down those trees in my grandmother’s pasture. Evidently, we were eco-responsible before it was cool.

Some of us celebrate the holiday meal with tamales. My family never did, which surprises me because we’re all nuts about Mexican food. My cousin Rachel could recite the menu of the Mexican Inn in Fort Worth before she could recite the alphabet. I think that’s a tradition we might have to borrow.

I mentioned caroling earlier.

Daddy loved Gene Autry’s version of the song, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." He’d sing it. He’d sing loud. And anywhere. Mostly, he’d sing it while my mother and I were trapped in the pickup truck with him, headed to Greenville to see his side of the Family on Christmas Day. Then he’d holler, “Aahh-haaaa!” like Bob Wills after the line, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, had a very shiny nose.”

In our family, we celebrated our immediate family Christmas at about 7:30 a.m. If I didn’t get up first, Daddy would. He’d come into my room, flip the lights on and off and shout, “SANTA CLAUS WAS HERE! HO! HO! HO!” Then he’d run to the living room before I could heft something at his head.

After that, we spent the morning with my mother’s side of the family in Tyler. It was breakfast at Grammo Williams’ house, then presents. At about noon, we’d get in the truck and head to Greenville to see Daddy’s side of the family. There was Christmas Day lunch, then presents, then a football game and finally dinner with leftovers from lunch. Finally, there was the drive back to Tyler. The day was hectic but it was fun. And, though I had no siblings, there were always a bunch of cousins to play with.

The year I turned 12 years-old, I got a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. In Texas, even little girls get BB guns for Christmas. I love watching “A Christmas Story” every year because of that gift. So much of that movie reminds me of the kind of Christmas holidays I had as a child, minus the snow of course. My grandmother even had the old push-button light switches in her house and I remember the same kind of old-fashioned Christmas tree lights being plugged in all in one ungrounded electrical outlet.

No wonder I went to work with firefighters for most of a decade.

You would think that, being from Texas and all Texas-proud that I’d have little Texas and western-themed Christmas ornaments on my tree at home.


Santa Claus in cowboy boots, to me, is sacrilege. I like my Santa “traditional.” In cowboy boots, he just looks weird.

I know from personal experience that cats like to chew Christmas tree lights. I remember seeing that poor Persian kitty get zotzed in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and thinking, “That’ll never happen.”

Then I got a Persian cat.

Do not throw a grown-up, glitzy, Dallas-style holiday dinner party with the formal china and champagne, and expect it to go well with a cat in the house. Ever.

Kitty survived, but now and again, I could smell eau de toasted hairball in my furniture’s upholstery some ten years later.

Never, in all my growing up years and beyond, did I ever have a Christmas that looked anything like the fantasies in store catalogs and I’m glad. Our family celebrations put the “fun” in dysfunctional and we all loved each other more for being way less than perfect. As I’ve often heard it said, down here, we’re proud of the weirdos in our family. We like to bring our crazy relatives down from the attic and show ‘em off at dinner. And it’s kind of a Texas thing to look at the whole (Christmas) ball of wax and chuckle at ourselves. I think we’d be disappointed if the holiday went off without a hitch, a heat wave or a redneck relation, so in the words of Robert Earl Keen, “Halleluiah, everybody say ‘cheese!’ Merry Christmas from the family!”

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