Carmen Paddock describes her picture perfect Christmas in Texas…
ASK most people how they imagine the season and their answers tend to include roast turkey, mince pies, chilly evenings curled under blankets or around a fire, beautiful piles of snow everywhere, and other ‘traditional’ seasonal delights propagated in mass culture. To me, however, nothing could be further from this picture. I hail from the United States, and my family almost always returns to my grandparents’ Texas Hill Country ranch as soon as the holidays arrive. Texas: the arid land of cacti, coyotes, and cowboys and in no way a winter wonderland. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine a place I’d rather be at Christmas time.
The holiday season has its own aesthetic in the Lone Star State. We do not even try to mimic the traditional; we embrace the land’s special character. Santas wear cowboy hats and boots, cut-outs of Saguaro cacti and coyotes are decked in lights (Texans are generally smart enough not to mess with the real things), and spindly cedars replace the voluptuous evergreens. Add in my appropriately-dressed relatives – cowboy boots, massive belt buckles, and flannel shirts – and classic country singers twanging Christmas carols over the radio, and there is no mistaking our location.
Although snowballs and snowmen are sadly not part of Texas Christmases, we keep ourselves entertained in our own unique ways. The weather – typically around 12 degrees – makes it pleasant to explore the outside. Over my years of holiday visits my cousins and I have hiked all around my grandparents’ extensive property (almost one hundred acres), collected Native American arrowheads from dry stream beds, played game upon game of baseball, and shot prickly pear cacti with AirSoft rifles. I am not kidding. It is every bit as stereotypically Texan as it sounds.
‘Everything’s bigger in Texas’ is certainly true during the holidays. The ranch house, barns, and other outbuildings – all with white stucco walls and red tin roofs – are trimmed in gigantic coloured lights. And big does not begin to describe dinner on Christmas Eve, breakfast on Christmas morning, and Christmas Day’s huge meal. In the Texas Hill Country, the three major culinary influences are Mexican, American Southern, and German. Christmas Eve is a gargantuan Mexican feast prepared by my grandmother, mum, aunts, and (in recent years) me. Black beans, homemade salsa and guacamole, chicken enchiladas with homemade salsa verde, queso fresco, posole, at least two varieties of tamales (meat wrapped in cornmeal and boiled in corn husks), and sopapillas (puffy fried dough slathered in honey). Christmas morning brings the Dixie version of Pigs-In-A-Blanket, which consists of fat sausages wrapped in buttermilk biscuit dough. Finally, a massive German spread completes Christmas lunch: sausages, sauerkraut, and mustards dominate the main course, and German Christmas breads and spiced cookies complete the culinary experience. I am sure I am not the only one whose blue jeans are a bit tighter by the end of the holiday!
And no holiday in Texas is complete without fireworks. Unless there is a burn ban in effect (a not uncommon occurrence in the semi-desert conditions), there are no restrictions on what pyrotechnics you can launch. None. And when my slightly pyromanical uncle is in charge of supplying them, it’s always an impressive display. We’ll have a bonfire every night we’re out at the ranch, but on Christmas Eve and Christmas Night we’ll ensure it is at least two metres high. Then our ready supply of fuel will set off firework after firework of the size that would be most likely illegal elsewhere in the world. During my nineteen years we have avoided all injuries besides minor burns and scares. However this is not an endorsement. I would highly recommend NOT trying this at home. What happens in Texas should stay in Texas, but thankfully the memories of family, food, fireworks, and cowboy cheer will always remain.
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