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Christmas in Fredericksburg
- a Community Celebration

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Nothing, not even the Super Bowl or the first day of deer season, brings people together like Christmas, and no place does Christmas like Fredericksburg. The dust barely settles after Thanksgiving before Marketplatz lights up like Times Square and the spirit of Christmas takes over.

Christmas has always been a big deal in Fredericksburg. The reason is that here, more than any other place I know of, Christmas is a community event. Christmas in Fredericksburg is not about me. It's about us. That's what makes it special.

I would argue that Fredericksburg survived its first difficult years precisely because people put their community before themselves. They looked out for each other. They worked together to solve problems, and on special occasions they let their hair down, put their differences aside and celebrated together.

A Fredericksburg Christmas in the 19th century was a time to celebrate not only with family but with friends and neighbors. The highlight of the holiday season was a community festival at Market Square. A large cedar tree decorated with candles and hand-made ornaments stood in the middle of the Square. On Christmas Eve the entire community came together for music, food, beer and wine.

On Christmas day most people went to church. By 1900 many churches celebrated Christmas with two services: one in German and one in English.

Beginning in 1920 the Fredericksburg Lions Club sponsored a county-wide Christmas program. "It was the spirit of Christmas that permeated the air," The Fredericksburg Standard noted. The program featured church choirs from all denominations, other local signing groups and the Fredericksburg Concert Band directed by Alfred Pehl.

The emotional night of music ended with everyone in the audience singing "Silent Night" followed by "God Bless America." After the benediction, everyone went home feeling "the bliss of being an American."

For over 50 years the Lions Club Christmas program brought people together. There was nothing else quite like it. The local newspaper called the occasion "an event unique in Texas and the United States."

In the 1920s, Klaerner's Hall (where the Palace Theater is today) would sometimes show a movie matinee, often a Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson or Buck Jones silent western, the day after Christmas. Later Klaerner's would clear away the chairs and have a dance that lasted most of the night.

A new community tradition began on December 17, 1927 when Santa Claus visited Fredericksburg at the invitation of the local Chamber of Commerce. Santa's truck came to town from the north, following the Mason Highway, leading to rumors among the children that the North Pole was somewhere near Brady.

Led by a marching band Santa's truck paraded from Kraus Corner down the full length of Main Street to the Nimitz Hotel and then back to the courthouse where 2,000 children stood lined up to meet St. Nick at the pavilion.

Santa, always a trouper, stayed until the bitter end. "Each and every child received a package," the Fredericksburg Standard proudly reported, "none being disappointed. The package included an orange, an apple, 2 pieces of candy and a little tin horn or a rubber ball."

"Never in the history of Fredericksburg had such a reception been accorded to any world famous figure in the past as was the welcome extended Santa."

Before WWII Christmas in Fredericksburg was mostly a Hill Country affair. Then in December 1941 locals noticed a lot of strangers walking along Main Street. They were news correspondents from all over the country in town to find out more about an obscure sailor, Chester W. Nimitz, just named Admiral of the Pacific Fleet.

In December 1964 the world watched as President Johnson, Lady Bird, Luci and Lynda celebrated Christmas at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.

After that the word was out. Fredericksburg was the place to be for Christmas.

The celebration of Christmas is still a community event in Fredericksburg. Our community has gotten a lot bigger, that all.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" December 22, 2021 Column



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