- Historic Sites
A Spanish Colonial Christmas
Traditions nearly five hundred years old underlie San Antonio’s month-long celebration
December 1997 | Volume 48, Issue 8
The calamity instantly became a martyrdom. Cries of “Remember the Alamo!” rallied General Houston’s troops when they finally crushed Santa Anna on April 21 at San Jacinto, Texas. Texas remained independent for nearly ten years and elected Sam Houston its first president. The government went broke though; much of the land had been ravaged by war, and thousands of homesteaders were the victims of land-sale fraud. The republic had little choice but to become part of the United States, which it did on December 29, 1845.
Cattle ranching and growing immigration helped the new state attain some prosperity. Wealthy Germans who trekked into the city from Galveston 150 miles to the southwest went on to build mills and mansions in the King William district, named for Wilhelm I of Prussia. They brought the tradition of trimming evergreens at Christmas with them. The German immigrants also introduced the concept of artificial trees to Texas, attaching dyed turkey feathers to wire branches; these are now considered valuable antiques. The King William Association sponsors a tour of homes each holiday season. At the Steves Homestead, the district’s grandest home, you can see how the family of the lumber magnate of that name lived in the 1870s. I met a presentday Steves at Las Posadas who asked me, “Did you know that my husband was born on the kitchen table?” I did. It had been part of this tour.
In San Antonio you truly get your pick of holiday celebrations. Several floating Christmas parades and shipboard evenings dedicated to caroling drift downstream on the River Walk. Mariachi festivals and plays compete for attention, and marketplaces like Hecho A Mano display Southwestern pottery, jewelry, and other handcrafted items that make splendid gifts.
Late at night after Las Posadas I went through the gifts I was taking home. I had Southwestern crafts and candied treats, but my favorite were the Yanaguana worry dolls. They are miniature figures that are supposed to take your troubles away if you place them under your pillow at night. The Coahuiltecans gave them to the Spanish during their early encounters. I smiled to think that they might be Texas’s oldest Christmas gifts.