Prairie Christmas Traditions

Texomaland history is a mere part of the Great Plains history. But, one thing the whole Great Plains region can count is unstable weather all in four seasons. It really depends on which map designates the Great Plains, but any way you slice it, we did not have the luxuries of the Eastern Cities out here when Christmas first came to the prairie. 

As it goes, we humans adapt. On the Great Plains, you never knew year to year what you were going to get for Christmas. It could be a blizzard, ice storm, or heavy rains depending on how far north or south you lived. Or, it could be a beautiful balmy day for a great deer hunt. 

We can trace Christmas in Oklahoma back to the recent 1830s (recent in comparison to the 2,000-plus years history of the Christian religion). In North Central Texas, German immigrants recorded a Christmas celebration in 1839. The Spanish settled much of Texas, and Presidio, Texas, claims the first recorded Texas Christmas in 1683.

Up here on the Prairie, people had to use what materials they had available to make their Christmas decorations. Our fauna did not include reindeer but we did and do have plenty of mistletoe flora. We still draw Santa buffalos and sell buffalo Christmas ornaments today.

Cedar trees were good for two things on the prairie, cedar chests to keep moths from eating mama’s hand-sewn quilts…and substitute Christmas trees. The rest of the time, pioneers considered cedars a pestilence. Back then people would just go out and look for the “the least lopsided and wind-whipped” tree as A. C. Greene wrote.

Then there are the Christmas cacti and Christmas tumbleweeds. In Texas we love to string our Christmas flora with red chile pepper garlands.  The German immigrants brought Kris Kringle, spicy pfeffernuess cookies, and caroling. 

Actually, we can trace the first record of Christmas trees in America back to the German Moravian Church's settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Christmas 1747.  Cow bells took the place of sleigh bells on the Prairie. 

Missionaries before, during, and after the Trail of Tears, recorded some of the first Christmas celebrations in Oklahoma with members of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory (I.T.).The Presbyterian Missionary Board sent a missionary named Henry Wilson to I.T. in 1832 in December. 

Henry arrived at Dwight Mission near Marble City, Oklahoma, in far central eastern Oklahoma and heard mission bells ringing. Henry’s guides told him they were ringing to call the Cherokees to service and the Christmas celebration. Henry later recorded, 

“When I entered the mission church, they were singing hymns in the Cherokee language.  Never before did music appear half so sweet to me; the language is music itself.”  

Henry spent that Christmas with about 100 Cherokee families, who had gathered at the mission, and wrote, 

“This was the happiest Christmas I ever spent, though far from home and friends and destitute of the luxuries and comforts to which I have become accustomed.”

Settlers migrating west to the Great Plains adopted new neighbors as family because family was left behind in the east. Christmas plans began weeks in advance. In Oklahoma, a native oak or blackjack tree could suffice for a Christmas tree. The prairie offered a variety of game for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

The star of Christmas dinner could have been bear meat, buffalo tongue, duck, goose, pigeon, prairie hen, quail, venison, or wild turkey. Fruits and vegetables, especially for Christmas dinner, were carefully canned, pickled, and preserved at harvest during the summer and fall months. 

Cowboys had to work the range no matter who was born on what day, and that included Christmas Day. Frontier town Christmas events were a mixture of celebrating Jesus and just plain celebrating. The towns would hold Christmas dances, and cowboys would ride long distances to attend the Christmas dances and dinners.

The cowboys would perform Christmas serenades in a procession kind of like a shivaree. Usually the town church held a service on Christmas morning and the cowboys would attend. Married couples would invite them for Christmas dinner and merrymaking, as it was usual to party with libations on the frontier on Christmas Day. 

The cowboys would repay the kindness with trinkets for their kids. 

A Contemporary Okie Christmas Story:

An Okie Invented the Legendary Leg Lamp

A true and wonderful Oklahoma late 20th century Christmas story demonstrates the truth in Oscar Wilde’s idiomatic quote, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life." The 1983 release of the movie, A Christmas Story, resulted in a classic Christmas movie that runs non-stop on TNT for 24 hours every year. 

Nolan James, a professor at the Oklahoma University School of Visual Arts, designed a unique lamp with mannequin legs and a shade. The story goes that a man would visit Nolan’s office to study the lamp often. And that man ended up working with the production team for A Christmas Story.

The Leg Lamp was a big hit in Nolan’s office before the movie, but today, it is a 50-foot landmark in Chickasha, Oklahoma. The Chickasha Leg Lamp debuted in November 2022. Over 175,000 people have visited the Grady County seat's downtown icon. Mr. James did not live long enough to see his lamp grow to 50 feet. Sadly, he passed away in 2020.

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Fishing Report from TPWD (Feb. 14)

GOOD. Water normal stain; 38-41 degrees; 0.06 feet below pool. Striped bass are fair on flukes drifting 35-45 feet of water near the rivers as we get closer to the spawn. Slow rolling swimbaits in coves and on points in 8-15 feet of water are still working for bigger fish. Glow and smoked shad are colors of choice. Crappie are slow on minnows in 10-12 feet of water on brush and dock piles. Look for the fish to move into the coves and creeks with the warmer weather. Catfish are slow on dead shad drifting 30-40 feet of water on ledges for keeper size fish. Bigger fish are shallow, look for dirty warmer water with inflow from rains. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are fair on swimbaits in stumps on points in 8-12 feet of water, and swimbaits along the bluffs in the backs of the coves on warmer days. Report by Jacob Orr, Guaranteed Guide Service Lake Texoma. Striped bass are starting to gorge on bait, so fish can be slow to bite but overall the bite is good. The most active bite in 3-30 feet of water on the humps and ledges using Alabama rigs, swimbaits, and some anglers are having success long lining. Report by John Blasingame, Adventure Texoma Outdoors.

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