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Not Your Normal

Christmas Traditions in Texas


Traditional holiday customs include decorating pine trees, hanging stockings for stuffing, putting up Christmas lights and yard decorations and Nativity scenes, reading the Christmas story, exchanging gifts, hanging wreaths on doors, singing and playing Christmas music, embracing secular and sacred Christmas meanings, and serving the usual Christmas dinner of turkey, dressing, and all the trimmings. 

Often in Texas, we try to recreate the look of Christmas seen in other parts of the country that have four seasons. We add fake snow on the shrubs or sills and a sled in the snowless yard, hang icicle lights from the eaves, or put frost on the windows. Hot weather and our calendar image of Christmas just don’t seem to go together since our Christmas days in Texas are usually dry, mild ones. The following are some out of the ordinary traditions friends shared with me.






Lee Adami of Leakey, Texas, shared a beautiful Christmas tradition that his family has done every year since his son was little: the Luminarias, which are candles sitting in sand in paper bags to light the way for Christ on Christmas Eve. This tradition originated in Mexico and definitely fits our part of the world. 














Ellen Kennedy of Mansfield, Texas, started a fun tradition when her youngest child Allison was born in 1989. She gave her three children outfits to wear on Christmas Day, and put them in Snoopy bags. Over 30 Christmases later, she still has the Snoopy bags (taped and lovingly taken care of) for her three kids, and later expanded the number of Snoopy bags to include their spouses and her seven grandchildren. Ellen still gets everyone outfits for Christmas Day, but now they are usually just a shirt or sweater and socks and underwear. 













Sarah Thompson of Roanoke, Texas, says her favorite unusual Christmas tradition is her family getting Slurpees at a 7-11 on Christmas Eve and driving around to look at the Christmas lights. The family eventually outgrew the car, but the Slurpee tradition continues. 




Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a holiday feast, but having a second turkey dinner a month after Thanksgiving was too much for the Casey family. At least 30 years ago we started having Mexican food for our Christmas dinner, including several kinds of enchiladas (my record was making 108 enchiladas one year), pinto beans, Spanish rice, guacamole, pico de Gallo, locally made tamales, and flour tortillas. Kate Alexander Maddock of Rockport said tamales are also her family’s Christmas Eve dinner.


For years after we graduated from high school, friends would gather at the high school football field at either Thanksgiving or Christmas or both to play the Turkey Bowl tag football to try to work off some of that holiday feasting. It didn’t take long for everyone to get too old to do that.  




Tristan Mercado of Pflugerville said a two-generation tradition in her family was letting Santa decorate the tree. The rest of the house would be decorated, but the tree would be bare. On Christmas morning the kids would step into the living room to see the most gorgeous tree and the many packages beneath it, which took their breath away. But Tristan likes to keep her tree decorated and up all month. Her family eats pizza on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas morning she makes banana-Nutella-stuffed French toast for breakfast, along with eggs, tocino (Filipino bacon), and lumpia, which is the Filipino version of egg rolls. She wants her son to have some of his father’s favorite childhood foods on Christmas.

Sisters Janet Crain of Hondo and Donna Jones of Cotulla give their grandkids a Christmas ornament every year so when they leave home and start their own families, they’ll already have meaningful ornaments for their own trees. Janet tries to match up the ornament with an interest, sport, or hobby that was important to each grandchild that year. This year her grandsons Bubba and Garrett are into horses, so their ornaments include a horse in them. Amy Koenning of Alice, Texas, said her church gives each family and child an ornament that includes the date and name that they can take with them when they leave home. Amy is retired now, but she still has ornaments on her tree from when she was a little girl. 


Jeannie Hart of D’Hanis said her family always picked up pan dulce (Hispanic sweet breads) and drove around to look at Christmas lights. An unusual tradition her brother does is wrap his gifts in feed sacks every year. He started out using burlap, then paper, which has evolved into the plastic sacks feed comes in now. What a cool Texas tradition, while also saving money and repurposing good material!


Sometimes doing something only once or twice starts a new holiday tradition in your family. Ask your kids or grands or family members what some of their favorite holiday traditions are, and if they can’t think of anything, maybe it’s time to start some new Texas (or wherever you are) Christmas traditions. 

Donna Van Cleve

December 2020


Photo credits:

Luminarias - Lee Adami

Snoopy bags - Ellen Kennedy

Crain grandsons - Janet Crain


Lumpia - 

Tocino - 

Ellen Kennedy's Snoopy bags.jpg

We had the traditional Christmas dinner with the Van Cleves, & Mexican food with the Caseys


Texas, like much of the U.S., is home to many cultures & the wonderful foods they bring with them. These are two Filipino dishes Tristan makes for her family at Christmas.


This tradition lasted one year early in our marriage. The decorated stump was called 'Christmas on a budget'. The straw ornaments were from Mexico. Our son Van was a little over a year old. 


A cowboy theme tree is easy to do when you use inexpensive straw rope to make lassos tied with ribbon


Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the Christmas cantatas, programs and plays at churches and schools. We’ll never forget one Christmas cantata at our church when the shepherds arriving to see baby Jesus included our Dallas Cowboy shepherd Van in his navy blue robe. Below: Miguel Jimenez, Jeremy Peters, unknown shepherd in cowboy boots, J.C. Carpenter, Jack 'Van' Cleve, & Christy forgot her last name angel.


For years it was my son Van's dream to win the local Christmas decorating contest, and this was the year they finally did it. For a week, Van and Vanessa sat out in their live Nativity scene for several hours each evening with a menagerie of live and stuffed animals, including 4-H show goats, John & Judy Northcut's white donkey named Snowball, and at least half a dozen dogs and a cat or two that would wander in and out at will. One evening I went out to check on the kids, and they'd fallen asleep in the hay. They even sat through a windy cold front that hit one evening, that kept blowing away the blanket. 

Bubba n Garrett n horses.jpg

Horses have become a big interest to Janet Crain's grandsons, Bubba & Garrett, so her Christmas ornament for them this year includes horses in them. 

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