Arts Home on the Range – A former New Yorker’s guide to the texas adjustment

The electric snowman and other Merry Texmas tales

“Oh, no, there ain’t no Sanity Claus.”
- The Damned

Phone calls to friends and family back East go something like this: In summer I whine about the heat and they wonder why I moved here. In winter they bitch about the cold and I try not to be smug. But for a few weeks in December come the inevitable questions—how can it feel like Christmas if it’s 80 degrees and there’s no hope of snow? How do you even know the seasons have changed?

Here’s how I know the season has changed: At dusk, the supermarket parking lots are teeming with strident birds. You don’t need a degree in ornithology to know that at this time of year the grackles own this town and we are all just hapless Tippi Hedrens. Hey, it’s not as poetic as leaves turning or Jack Frost nipping at your nose, but at least it is a clear seasonal demarcation. I also know that winter has arrived because I can finally ditch my cardigan—I find it’s actually warmer here when folks shut off the AC.

And the holidays (apologies to Bill O’Reilly) are upon us when (a) Halloween is over, and (b) the lights begin to blanket the city like so much electric snow. My theory on Christmas lights is that they are the Texan way of overcompensating for the lack of picturesque precipitation. If you cover every square inch of your lawn with blinking lights, animatronic reindeer, and giant inflatable snow globes so that not a blade of grass can be seen, then who’s to say there’s no snow under there? I mean, there could be.

Last year was my first holiday season in San Antonio and I wasn’t that into it. Culture shock, I guess. This year I haven’t had much choice but to embrace the holidays, given the fact that my 2-year-old daughter Dale’s awareness of the yuletide season snowballs with each passing day. And like most things with a 2-year-old, including unshakeable colds and intestinal viruses, her bedazzlement is a little bit contagious.

So our December has been devoted to all things merry and bright. The first weekend we decided to find a Christmas-card photo op. Last year we paid our respects to Gruene’s Cowboy Kringle; this time around we opted for Pancho Claus. After an early breakfast at the even-more-trippy-than-usual-if-that’s-really-possible Mi Tierra, we headed to El Mercado to buy ornaments and await the arrival of Pancho Claus. Unfortunately, Pancho was not operating on the same schedule as Dale, whose eyes were whirling like kaleidoscopes (never a good sign) as she recovered from Mi Tierra’s dancing lights and took in a talent show featuring sock-hopping 9-year-olds. With a meltdown clearly in the offing, we had to cut and run before Pancho made his grand entrance. Bummer.

The next day we went on a shopping foray to the outlet malls in San Marcos and to the Christmas crazy-torium known as Garden Ridge. I’d been warned against this folly but refused to listen. I was feeling relentlessly festive; plus, I needed a tree skirt.

Our primary destination at the outlets was the new Neiman’s Last Call, about which I will say only this: As a newcomer, I find there are a lot of confusing, out-of-left-field things about Texas, but a faux Venetian canal in the middle of a mall parking lot might just top the list (for now). If we’d had more time, perhaps we would have taken a romantic gondola ride along this SUV-lined waterway, but we had to make a dash for Garden Ridge, where I was expecting a scene out of the local TV news—you know, those gleefully sadistic reports about Black Friday shoppers pummeling each other in pursuit of plasma TVs. Instead what I found was a certain hollow-eyed, shuffling obliviousness reminiscent of a George Romero movie. Except these zombies weren’t groaning for “brain,” they were muttering “swag,” “poinsettia,” and “giant inflatable snow globe.”

The rest of the month went something like this: Bought our tree at the decidedly unfestive Lowe’s. Took a barge ride to see the lights on the river on a Saturday night—yes, we are that crazy. (But helpful hint for the equally insane: Board your barge when the sun is just setting and you will beat the crowds.) Attended a big holiday party at Dale’s school, where she frolicked in a “snowbox” (a sandbox filled with snow-cone snow instead of sand) and shortly thereafter succumbed to a virus that has bedeviled her ever since. So as of this writing, she has still not sat on the lap of a single Santa, though she did projectile-vomit in my car on the way to see one at The Argyle. Poor baby. To make up for it, I have made her a promise—that we will drive around the neighborhood every evening to ooh and ahh at the decked-out houses and light-lassoed oaks, ’til the very last patch of electric snow is shoveled away.

By Gillian Fassel

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