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Posted on: November 17, 2023

Gathered & Grateful: Holiday Traditions in Our Hometown

City of Celina Christmas Tree

In the heart of Celina, Texas, where traditions run deep and community bonds are forged with pride, rich, and enduring celebrations of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays have been treasured among families since the earliest days of recorded memoirs.

At Thanksgiving, families have always gathered. The spirit of giving and gratitude has been optimally seen through the distribution of turkeys and meals to less-fortunate families by generous residents in the community. Different churches have united in prayer and singing.

At Christmas, the Downtown Square has been decorated and a large tree has been lit year after year. The evolution of these cherished traditions, marked by a blend of our local heritage and historical events, weaves a captivating story of how families here have celebrated and embraced the spirit of gratitude and merriment, through the best of times and in the midst of dark challenges that profoundly impacted families and this city. In Celina, this truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Most notable among all traditions across the years are the celebrations and festivals during the holidays, like the present-day Christmas on the Square. These have been an integral part of Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions in Celina throughout the 20th century to now. Though each celebration is unique to its time, these city-wide traditions trace back decades. Shopping around the Square, kids playing around the City’s Christmas Tree, the sharing of a meal with friends, choirs singing classic carols, family photos on the streets of Downtown, and the glimmer of lights and decorations have always been a part of the holiday traditions here. Gatherings at churches, on the Square, and in homes around town have played a crucial role in fostering unity, sharing faith, and extending love for generations. They have served as a testament to the strong sense of what is defined today in Celina as Life Connected.

Old Celina Record newspaper clippings highlight another rich local tradition of community Thanksgiving and Christmas services. These sacred gatherings were an escape from normal routine each year and gave attendees a sense of belonging while celebrating lasting relationships among neighbors and forging a sense of faith and community. During times of war, these services took on an added significance. Celina residents came together to pray for the safe return of their loved ones serving far-away in the armed forces, and to offer comfort and support to families who had relatives stationed overseas. These gatherings included elements like special prayers and hymns dedicated to the troops, as well as moments of reflection to remember those who were far from home during the holiday season.

Often, individuals from the community would share personal stories and updates from their loved ones in the military, creating a deeper sense of connection and empathy. The December 21, 1944, Celina Record shared one such story of two Celina brothers who were fighting in the Pacific front of the war and were able to randomly meet overseas and share a meal for Thanksgiving. During their four-hour visit, they talked of home and their loved ones and how they wished everyone back in Celina a Merry Christmas.

Community services, which rotated each holiday to different churches, also frequently included activities that showcased the talents of local residents, such as choir performances, nativity plays, and readings from scripture that pertained to the holiday. On December 8, 1941, the Celina Record front page announced the McDowell Club had named the Hymn of the Month as “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The club urged everyone to sing it throughout December. These traditions stand as a testament to the unshakable bonds that define Celina’s heritage and underscore the value of coming together as a community, even during the most trying of times.

Seasonal decorations throughout the city during the holiday seasons have been another integral component to Celina’s holiday history. These decorations have played a central role in enhancing the festive atmosphere of the season, offering a dynamic blend of tradition and innovation. In the earliest days, decorations in homes were marked by the simplicity of handmade ornaments, fragrant evergreen wreaths, and the soft glow of candles. As electric lighting became popular, decorations evolved to include dazzling lights displays and other modern elements.

On December 23, 1992, the front page of the Celina paper highlighted this tradition by featuring photos of four beautifully decorated Celina homes. The decorations featured were at the homes of Steve Carey, Gary Spurgeon, Keith Scott, and Brian Stiles. Newspaper coverage of Christmas decorations surely raised the spirit of competitive decorating among neighbors that just might still exist today.

Along with local homes, Downtown Celina has historically been illuminated with vibrant lights, festive window displays, inviting holiday music, and larger-than-life decorations, creating a truly magical ambiance. On the Square, the community has annually come together for tree-lighting ceremonies, caroling, visits from Santa, and celebrations that have strengthened the bonds shared here across generations.

Churches in Celina have played a significant role in setting the stage for Christmas celebrations, as well. Across the 20th century, the interiors of all the Downtown churches were adorned with nativity scenes, wreaths, and beautiful decor. Natural elements like poinsettias and evergreen garlands have remained a constant, symbolizing faith and the eternal spirit of the season. These decorations in homes, around the city, and in churches have been a visual testimony to resilience, hope, and the enduring power of the gratitude and love celebrated at each Thanksgiving and Christmas.

With global tensions increasingly high this holiday season, it should be noted that Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions in Celina have been deeply influenced by significant historical events throughout the 20th century and until now.

The earliest years in Celina’s grand story were characterized by a predominantly agricultural economy. Holiday traditions often revolved around rural life, community, church, and family values. That era witnessed the continuation of longstanding practices such as hunting and gathering, with a strong emphasis on farm-fresh, locally grown ingredients for Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts.

Yet, that simplicity would be tested during World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, our involvement in Middle East conflicts, the attacks of 9/11, and countless other challenges across history. As young men and women from Celina and nearby communities went off to serve in these conflicts, families experienced an unwelcomed emotional strain during the holidays. The absence of loved ones overseas left a void that was felt deeply, underscoring the significance of family gatherings during both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

On November 18, 1943, on the front page of the Celina Record, First Presbyterian Church of Celina’s Minister, J.L. Cleveland, urged readers, “Go to church next Sunday and worship God, thereby showing your appreciation of one of the sacred things for which our men are fighting and many of them dying — the privilege of worshiping God as our hearts dictate.”

Locally, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, had a profound impact on the residents of Celina and the entire nation during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season that year. President Kennedy’s tragic death just miles away occurred a few days before Thanksgiving, casting a shadow of grief over the entire holiday season. The nation was in mourning, and the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations were marked by a nationally felt somber tone.

Yet, despite these challenging seasons, Celina residents have cherished their celebrations of both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Less than a month after the tragic event in Dallas, on December 12, 1963, the Celina paper alerted the community that Santa would be visiting Celina, offering joy and hope for the holidays. The announcement said that Santa would arrive at the Square around 4 PM on the following Friday afternoon in his sleigh to give candy to the local children. A large tree adorning the Square would be lit at the event, and choirs from all the local churches would be present for caroling.

There have been a number of especially happy and memorable holidays across Celina’s history, thanks to the storied successes of the Celina Bobcats football team. For so many years in modern history, the team has played deep in the playoffs into November and early December. Eight Christmases stand out as truly magical holidays when the Bobcats brought home the state championship trophy.

The December 19, 1974, Celina Record, adorned with Christmas artwork, announced Celina as State Champions after the biggest game in its program’s history. Surrounded by articles about holiday events, it was notable that the Bobcats’ first football championship was the biggest news of the season. Seven more would follow, making Christmas for Bobcat fans those years even merrier.

Delicious foods have always been at the core of Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions in this region. Not just among families, but social groups have cherished holiday meals, as well.

The November 23, 1978, Celina Record reported the Thanksgiving dinner for the Fidelis Inter Se club, hosted by Tommie Bothwell, Linda Hughes, Linda Vest, Mary Hughes, and Bertha Shook. They enjoyed the fellowship of one another and a bountiful traditional Thanksgiving meal. They also announced from that meeting that the club would be selling Corsicana fruit cakes for the holidays, and the cakes would be on display at Celina Drug.

Holiday meal traditions have evolved across the decades, as have food prices. In the early 1900s, Thanksgiving and Christmas were characterized by simple, heartfelt celebrations. Families gathered around tables laden with locally sourced, farm-fresh ingredients. Traditional dishes like roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, and pecan pie graced the menu. This was an era where community and self-sufficiency were paramount, and people often relied on what they could produce themselves.

The Roaring Twenties brought a sense of modernity to the holidays as electric appliances, such as ovens and refrigerators, made cooking and preserving food more efficient. This era saw a slight shift towards convenience, as canned goods became more common. However, the Great Depression of the 1930s tempered extravagance, and many families embraced simpler, more frugal holiday meals. World War II had a profound impact on Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions in Celina. Many residents had loved ones and friends serving overseas, and the emotional tensions of war were deeply felt during the holiday season.

The post-war era of the 1950s and 1960s marked a return to prosperity and abundance. An advertisement in the local paper for the Celina Frozen Food Locker on the Square from that era offered holiday shoppers some great buys to prepare for their Christmas supper: black-eyed peas were three cans for 35 cents; tall jars of milk were three for 43 cents; a pound of Folger’s or Maxwell House coffee was 54 cents; and a No. 2 ½ can of Hunt’s peaches in syrup was 29 cents. Holiday tables, once again, were under the weight of bountiful feasts. Turkeys, hams, and all the trimmings became standard fare. In the 1970s, there was a growing awareness of health-conscious eating, and this influenced Thanksgiving and Christmas menus. Traditional dishes were often given a healthier twist.

The 1980s brought a surge in the popularity of electronic kitchen gadgets and convenience foods, reflecting the fast-paced lifestyle of the era. The late 20th century and the present day have seen a fusion of traditional and modern elements in holiday meals here and across Texas. While the core menu remains relatively unchanged, Tex-Mex influences have introduced dishes like tamales and chili to the Thanksgiving and Christmas spread. Texas barbecued beef and other great regional dishes have also made their way onto some tables, especially in more casual celebrations.

Throughout Celina’s history, the exchange of gifts has served as an expression of love and a mark of shared traditions. Gift-giving during Christmas has evolved from the simplicity of handmade presents to the modern era of store-bought, hightech gifts. Each year, along with the anticipated arrival of the Sears catalog, the Celina paper was full of holiday ads from retailers around town.

In December of 1950, the ad for Allen’s Variety Store in Downtown reminded last-minute shoppers about the favorite gifts that could be purchased at Allen’s: neckties, dress socks, handkerchiefs, blankets, gloves, billfolds, and more.

In the Celina Record on December 21, 1985, Michelle Hughes and T.J. Hughes sent letters to the paper for Santa. In these printed letters, Michelle asked for a Cabbage Patch Preemie and clothes and a diaper bag, a Barbie and Barbie clothes, and some house shoes. T.J. wanted an electronic bigfoot, an electronic Go Bot, Snake Mountain, more Heman men, and a new game. Both kindly ended their letter by telling Santa they would love anything else he brought them and telling him they would leave snacks for him. No matter the era, gift exchanges have been every child’s highlight of Christmases in Celina.

In the early 1900s, Christmas gifts in the area were often simple and homemade. Children received handcrafted toys, and adults exchanged practical gifts like knitted clothing or homemade preserves. With the economic impact of World War I, gifts often included war bonds and items to support the troops, such as handmade care packages.

The 1920s brought the introduction of new electric appliances, which became popular gift choices. Radios, in particular, were highly sought after. The Great Depression influenced the types of gifts exchanged. Essential items like clothing, shoes, and food were commonly exchanged. As during World War I and World War II, many gifts were related to the war effort, including war bonds, Red Cross donations, and care packages for soldiers overseas.

The post-war era marked a return to consumerism, with gifts like appliances, record players, televisions, and a wide array of toys for children, as residents shopped until the last minute to fill the spot under their tree.

On December 24, 1959, the Celina Record announced that practically every store and business in Celina would be closed for the three-day weekend in observance of Christmas. The blip concluded with the paper encouraging residents, “Better stock up, folks.” The 1960s saw the rise of popular toys like Barbie dolls and action figures, as well as merchandise related to television shows and movies. Gifts in the 1970s and 1980s often included toys based on television shows or movies, lifelike dolls, popular board games, video game consoles, and fashion items like colorful clothing and accessories.

The 1990s saw a surge in video game popularity, and many gifts revolved around gaming consoles and accessories. Collectible items like Beanie Babies were also in demand. Modern times have brought a surge in electronic gadgets, and gift cards for online and in-store shopping are on every kid’s list for Santa. The joy shared in the giving and receiving of every one of these awaits us, once again, as the holiday story soon continues.

In the echo of every festive carol, the twinkling lights on Christmas trees around town, and the shared grace at Thanksgiving tables laden with the love and labor of countless hands, there emerges a timeless and unifying theme that has animated the heart and soul of holidays in Celina since our beginning – the spirit of gratitude and the joy of gathering.

Times have changed, but traditions have stayed much the same and are treasured in hearts and homes throughout our city. Again this year, tables will be full, the square will be illuminated, Santa will stop by, and families will gather, full of gratitude.

As the world spins so fast, in Celina, people still slow down and take in the merriment of the season and cherish time spent with friends and family. Perhaps the cover of the December 24, 1981 Christmas Edition of the Celina Record captured why these traditions matter, and why they must remain.

The paper had the entire front page decorated with Christmas artwork and only the words of the following message, “As His message lives on in our hearts, let us celebrate with prayer and exultation the many blessings His love has brought us all. We wish you all a Merry Christmas.” Holidays in Celina, Texas have been, and will forever be, some of the best of any hometown.

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