Christmas Past Comes to Life During 31st Annual Candlelight at the Ranch

National Ranching Heritage Center brings history, holidays to life with two-day event.

CLT Barton House

Lights illuminate CLT Barton House at the National Ranching Heritage Center as part of the annual Candlelight at the Ranch.

As she prepares for four couples coming over this weekend, volunteer Amy Pope will have to keep an eye her on baking and make sure the hot cocoa doesn’t scald.

It almost sounds like a normal gathering of friends and family for a holiday celebration until she explains she’ll be using a wood-burning oven, and dancers will get down 1880s-style to the music of a lone violinist.

Pope and her party guests will become living history during the 31st annual Candlelight at the Ranch: Silver Bells and Golden Spurs. The event runs 6-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Dec. 11-12) at the historical park, located at 3121 Fourth St. Admission is free, but a donation of $2 per family is appreciated.

“I really enjoy it out there,” Pope said. “I will be baking cookies and have hot cocoa on the wood-burning stove. We’ll be having a dance to fiddle music. We hope it will be very festive and that visitors enjoy it. I know we will.

“I’ve volunteered at the National Ranching Heritage Center since 1989.  So, this year is a very special anniversary for me.”

Pope’s party will take place in the Las Escarbadas building – once part of the XIT Ranch. Her particular stone building was built in 1886 and originally stood 35 miles west of Hereford.

“This building and this era represent an important transition from immense cattle operations to a combination of ranching and farming,” she said. “By that time, a lot of the range had been opened up to farming in the 1880s.”

Her party will be one of many examples of holiday celebrations long past on the South Plains said event coordinator Emily Arellano. Period-dressed volunteers will re-enact holiday preparations and celebrations from the late 1700s to mid 1900s.

Visitors will see re-creations of preparing a holiday meal, decorating a tree … or tumbleweed, making gingerbread houses, rehearsing for a school play and performing traditional holiday music on the piano. A chuck wagon scene will represent cold nights on the trail, as hot coffee boils over open fires. In the refurbished Santa Fe Depot, holiday travelers will wait for the train.

“The holidays were an important part of family life on the Plains, whether it meant gathering around the stove to pull taffy, stringing popcorn for the tree or enjoying carols and hymns around the fire,” Arellano said. “Regardless if preparations for the winter were done together or alone, the thought of family was always at the center of the celebration.”

Thanks to Texas Tech’s School of Music, this year’s visitors will experience live music with the traditional event features, Arellano said. Music professor Susan Brumfield will teach period carols volunteers, and members of the West Texas Children’s Chorus will perform at several of the locations in the park.

“The sounds of the season will greet visitors as they walk through the park,” Arellano said.  “Carolers will be located in several buildings singing music that is appropriate to the specific structure in which they are located. For example, Spanish lullabies will be sung at Los Corralitos, while German hymns will fill the air at Hedwig’s Hill.”

Some 8,000 people annually attend Candlelight at the Ranch.

Executive Director Jim Pfluger said the staff, Ranch Hosts and community volunteers work hard to recreate the holidays as they were celebrated in the Old American West.

“Candlelight at the Ranch is popular with people in the South Plains and the surrounding region because it is real,” Pfluger said. “They can look through a door or window and get a glimpse of what came before us. They can bring their children and grandchildren and let them see that Christmas was much more than how many presents are under the tree. It was the comfort of being together, being safe and celebrating the occasion however they could. For those who were alone, it was a time to reflect and look forward to better times to come.”

For more information about the National Ranching Heritage Center, call (806) 742-0498.

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