— By LARRY M. JONES
In America we have over the years witnessed an evolution of the way we celebrate Christmas. Yet, one thing remains pretty much constant down on the “pore farm,” as well as most of Middle America – the celebration centers around family.
When it comes to observing the anniversary of the birth of Christ, each region of the country, ethnic group, community, family, or even individual will have distinct traditions and expectations of the holiday season. From what I have seen, read, and surmised, Christmas as we currently celebrate it is an intricate melding of Christian, pagan and secular beliefs, rituals and customs. It’s always been a little hard for me to get my arms around it, but this somewhat odd assortment of elements was an apparent effort to blend together the earlier pagan lore with Christianity when it began to encompass Northern Europe in the early Middle Ages. Mix together Catholic beliefs, reformation protestant beliefs, German and Scandinavian pagan lore, along with a hearty infusion of American capitalism, and you have Christmas 2013 in the United States.
Both the traditions of the religious holiday and the secular degrees of celebration vary widely. My wife’s family is from Pflugerville, a bedroom community north of Austin with a proud German heritage. There, a dominant Lutheran church enjoys Christmas rituals very unlike what I experienced growing up here in Parker County with its protestant Bible Belt ethos.
Despite great diversity, there is one commonality in how Christmas is celebrated by most everyone here in America. This annual holiday is a time for the gathering together of families. Christmas is the time of year most likely for family members to travel great distances to join together feasting, celebrating, and exchanging of gifts. It is a time for several generations to meet and learn of family history and traditions.
When I was growing up in the 40s and 50s, my family normally enjoyed our exchange of gifts, hors d’oeuvers and a buffet of holiday treats on Christmas Eve. After Grandma Jones passed away, Grandpa was almost always included in this evening celebration at our house. One of my favorite memories of Grandpa Jones is the huge striped peppermint candy canes he had each year at his house. For months after Christmas each year, when I visited him, he would whack the candy with the back of his pocket knife to break off a piece for each of us to savor.
Splitting our time like many families during the holidays, we would spend Christmas day with my mother’s folks. Pap and Bam Thomas lived in Millsap, and many of the Thomas clan would normally gather there. My brother and I looked forward to getting together with these cousins to shoot firecrackers, play on the railroad tracks, and delve in whatever mischievous deeds young boys do so well.
Unlike lavish Yuletide celebrations of today, gifts were never an issue. No one had the money to buy expensive presents for extended family members. Mere presence was far more valuable than all the presents money could buy.
Helen and I wish each of you and your families a Merry Christmas and a joyful coming year.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.