Texas is steeped in Christmas lore and traditions, dating back centuries. As we celebrate the birth of the God man who created Texas (and the rest of the universe), let us look at one little known Christmas story and a Christmas Eve tradition.
Jane Long’s Christmas
Any good Texan knows that Stephen F. Austin is considered the “Father of Texas.” Yet, the woman who would come to be known as “Mother of Texas” was facing trials of her own during the Christmas of 1821.
Jane Wilkinson Long was born in Maryland in 1798. Raised by a distant relative, General James Wilkinson, after her parents died when she was quite young, she grew up on Wilkinson’s plantation. While pursuing her education she met James Long, a surgeon who had fought in the Battle of New Orleans. Long accepted a commission as general to lead an expedition to Texas. In 1821 Jane accompanied him with their two daughters and they settled in Bolivar Point.
When Long was away, winter arrived with a vengeance, freezing Galveston Bay! Jane, her daughters, and their 12-year old servant girl Kian were ultimately abandoned by the soldiers who initially remained at the fort. She managed to keep her family fed and fended off hostile Karankawa natives through the winter, only to learn her husband had been shot in a Mexico City prison. Jane later opened a boarding house in Brazoria and, tradition has it, turned down marriage proposals from Sam Houston, Ben Milam and Mirabeau B. Lamar. A more certain Texas tradition is the tamalada.
While seasonal favorites of most Americans turn to fruitcake and eggnog this time of year, Texans anticipate tamales, especially Texans of Hispanic descent. When Christmas Eve rolls around, there ought to be tamales on the table!
Yet, equally anticipated is the tamalada, a family gathering to make tamales. In the 2009 NPR article “Tamales For Christmas Are a True Texas Tradition,” Rhett Rushing, a folklorist at San Antonio’s Institute of Texan Cultures, is quoted as saying “By the time the day was over and the tamales were made, the family would be caught up, the arguments resolved, differences aired. It wasn’t just about the masa and the meat. It was the love and the tears.” This brings back memories to this writer of Italian roots because we made gnocchis and sausage the same way.
These corn masa and meat bundles are part of the traditional Mexican celebration of Joseph and Mary’s search for a place in Bethlehem, just before Jesus birth. They have been made for centuries this time of year in both Mexico and Texas. These days many Texans buy the masa—a corn meal and lard dough—from a molina because that is the most time consuming ingredient. The remaining ingredients—pork, chicken, beans, chilies and spices—are literally the heart of the dish. Bring them on!
You see, although Christmas is celebrated by both native Texans, as well as those that got here as fast as we could, its roots run deep. Whether we recall past Texas Christmases or traditions passed down from generation to generation, we find our Christmas is distinct. The current occupant of the White House may be credited with stopping the “war on Christmas,” but that war was but a skirmish in Texas. We at the Texas Nationalist Movement wish you a very Merry Christmas!