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December 12, 2013

Texas Christmas Features Tamales, Cowboys

by Greg Flakus

In Texas, Christmas and New Year's celebrations are similar to those in the rest of the United States, but Mexican culture and the state's cowboy heritage both contribute a special flavor.

A lone star, the symbol of Texas, sits atop a tall tree in front of the Alamo, a Spanish mission where Texas rebels fought to the death against the Mexican army in 1836.

But the people who gather here on cold December evenings, leading up to Christmas, seek peace and harmony.

And regardless of their ethnic background, they favor Mexican food for the holiday.

"We make our own food like tamales and menudo," said one man.

"We traditionally have tamales on Christmas eve with other kind of hors d'ouerves kind of stuff. It is really not the turkey meal that you see in the movies or maybe that is what they do up north," a woman said.

Cowboy capital

Nearby, The Riverwalk is decorated with Christmas lights, but the cold temperatures discourage outdoor dining.

On sunny days, city folk can head to Texas Hill Country, to the small town of Bandera. It calls itself The Cowboy Capital of the World.

Cowboy singers and musicians meet frequently at Bandera's Frontier Times Museum.

Lew Pewterbaugh runs a ranch outside Bandera where he keeps several horses.

"Christmas time, I generally try to give them some apples or carrots or something." he said. "I know that they do not realize that it is a special day, but they appreciate the treat."

Poetry has long been popular among cowboys, and Lee Haile does a cowboy variation on the classic poem The Night Before Christmas, which tells the story of Santa Claus and his reindeer sled.

"He said, 'gittyup [get going], you old nag, and as his rig disappeared off into the stars, we heard a small voice that come from afar, 'Come on you old mules or I will tan your hide, have a Merry Christmas, y'all and y'all have a good night," sang cowboy-style singer Lee Haile.

Family tradition

Haile grew up on a ranch that served as the anchor for his extended family.

"Christmas was always a big gathering time with the family," he said. "We always ended up at the ranch out there, and so cousins and people who were no longer around [living nearby] all migrated back to the ranch and then we had Christmas there."

Today there are few family ranches in central Texas, but Haile said he and other performers keep the cowboy heritage alive for visitors from near and far.

"We get people from Germany, Switzerland, England all the time, and when they get here they are already decked out [dressed in cowboy outfits], and sometimes they know as much or more about the culture as we do," he said.

Haile said at this time of year, he feels the influence of both holiday and cowboy traditions.