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December 2006 Park Picks

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site

Old-fashioned Christmas celebration highlights annual holiday program.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Flickering white candles, strands of popcorn, iced sugar cookies and a few glass ornaments adorn a scrappy juniper in the 1915 Victorian-style home at Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm.

Beneath the tree stands a child’s rocking horse outfitted with a miniature saddle. A small chalkboard, a little wooden locomotive, a homemade doll and a tin of scented powder depict other Christmas gifts bestowed upon children of the early 1900s.

“How simple life used to be,” I think to myself wistfully as I stroll with other visitors through the quaint homestead, softly lit with kerosene lanterns and furnished with the barest of necessities.

Across the dogtrot, we step into the old-fashioned kitchen, where women in calico aprons and long skirts invite us to sample from a candlelit table laden with sweets. From the many plates, I sample the frosted Weihnachtsstollen (Christmas bread), a pecan-specked molasses cookie and a bite of moist potato cake.

Tonight, we’re experiencing an old-fashioned German-American Christmas at the farmstead, an annual tradition that is part of the holiday festivities hosted each December at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site near Stonewall.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, first invited the public to join them for a special tree-lighting program at the park in 1970. Over the years, the free event has grown to include a live nativity, carolers, oompah music, visits with Santa, holiday films and crafts, and after-dark bus tours of the LBJ Ranch and farmstead.

The evening starts shortly before 6 p.m. in the courtyard at the visitors’ center, where a tall, bushy juniper stands, wrapped in colored bulbs. Musicians with a German band — all wearing felt caps and suspenders — play carols until the Johnson family arrives. Frail and in her 90s, Lady Bird still attends if she’s able.

After a half-hour program, the crowd applauds when the tree’s lights flicker on. Some visitors line up for refreshments in a nearby exhibit hall while others board the evening’s first tour bus, which departs promptly on schedule. (Visitors must register for tours.)

On the way to the LBJ Ranch, the shuttle passes the Junction School, where a costumed schoolmarm steps outside to wave. The president first attended classes in the one-room schoolhouse in 1912. The bus also passes the president’s grave and his reconstructed birthplace, all lit for the occasion. At his grandparents’ home, the bus stops so costumed volunteers can hand out peppermints. Then it’s on to the Texas White House, decoratively strung with white lights, red bows and greenery.

The evening concludes with a stop at the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, where glowing lanterns light the path to the front gate. After a tour and goodies in the kitchen, the shuttle delivers guests back to the visitors’ center, where the park store is open for holiday shopping.

Earlier in the month (December 2-3), the Sauer-Beckmann Farm offers a weekend of holiday cookie decorating and a primer on German holiday traditions.

LBJ State Park is located between Fredericksburg and Johnson City off U.S. 290. For more information about Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, call (830) 644-2252 or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/lyndonbjohnson>.

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