Christmas Music Inspires and Brings Cheer during the Pandemic

Celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with the best Christmas songs of all time

Christmas delivers more traditions, festivities, and entertainment than all other holidays combined.

During the Christmas season, we sing traditional carols and hymns. In churches and homes, many set up nativity scenes, a practice created in 1223 by St. Francis of Assisi.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We also participate in secular holiday traditions. Originally modeled on a fourth-century bishop, St. Nicholas of Myra, Santa Claus has long been an icon of the Christmas season. We set up and decorate spruce and fir trees in our living rooms, attach stockings to the mantle, send out Christmas cards, buy sleigh loads of presents, and tell the little ones about Santa’s elves and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The world of arts and entertainment exuberantly joins these festivities. We read books such as Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and share poems with our children like Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas or Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Hollywood has pumped out scores of Christmas movies ranging from classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street” to comedies, religious stories, and Hallmark romances.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meanwhile, families practice their own holiday customs. That newly wedded couple must decide whether they’re going to open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Some families watch “A Christmas Story,” while others stick to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Some repeat the Thanksgiving menu of turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes for their holiday meal while others enjoy roast beef, goose, or ethnic foods.

Another Christmas tradition: The Story of the Poinsettia

And then, of course, there is the music.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Songs, songs, and more songs

It’s not really Christmas until the gang from Pentatonix releases new material and this year they’ve stretched the definition of Christmas material.

The group offers classics like “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” and also tackle songs not often caroled like Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and Joni Mitchell’s “River.” And then they give “I Saw Three Ships” and “Frosty the Snowman” a rhythmic beat.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are so many Christmas songs and so many different artists who have recorded them that certain radio stations fill their December air time with this fare without strain or repetition. Load copies of all these recordings into Santa’s sleigh and even that bearded wonder and his 12 reindeer might have trouble making lift-off.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of these compositions are more than 1,000 years old while others have popped up in just the past decade. Some celebrate the coming of a savior like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, O Holy Night”, and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Others center our attention on the symbols of the season like “O Christmas Tree” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Some take a turn toward romance, as in “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and “Christmas Every Day.” There are even silly Christmas songs: “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And you don’t need to be Irish to enjoy “Christmas in Killarney”:

  • The holly green, the ivy green/The prettiest picture you’ve ever seen/Is Christmas in Killarney/With all of the folks at home/It’s nice you know, to kiss your beau/while cuddling under the mistletoe/And Santa Claus, you know of course/Is one of the boys from home
  • The door is always open/The neighbors pay a call/And Father John, before he’s gone/Will bless the house and all/Our Hearts are light, our spirits bright/We’ll celebrate our joy tonight/It’s Christmas in Killarney/With all of the folks at home
Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Songs and carols and how they came to be

Behind many of these songs are intriguing stories of their creation and their meaning. Here are just a few of these histories.

Another Christmas tradition: Pecan Pralines a Sweet Tradition

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” has its roots in the monasteries of the ninth century. That early version was in Latin, of course, and is just as beautiful as the English we sing today. Originally, monks or nuns chanted verses and psalms from the Old Testament anticipating the arrival of a savior. Discipleship Ministries of the Methodist Church offers this interesting observation on the original arrangement. Each of the antiphons (a short chant in Christian ritual, sung as a refrain) began with the words below:

  • O Sapentia (Wisdom)
  • O Adonai (Hebrew word for God)
  • O Radix Jesse (stem or root of Jesse)
  • O Clavis David (key of David)
  • O Oriens (dayspring)
  • O Rex genitium (King of the Gentiles)
  • O Emmanuel
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By the seventh antiphon—O Emmanuel—the first letter of these words read in opposite order gave listeners an acrostic “Ero Cras,” which means “I will be present tomorrow.”

Another song from the Middle Ages, “In Dulci Jubilo,” we now know as “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.” German folklore holds that Heinrich Seuse composed this carol sometime around 1328 after he had heard angels singing it.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht

“Silent Night” has a story that is almost as beautiful as the carol itself.

Another Christmas tradition: The Holiday Season Favorite Veggie: Sweet Potato or Yam?

Just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, a young Austrian priest, Joseph Mohr, took a walk on a winter’s evening and was struck by the peace and beauty of the snow-covered village below him. He wrote down the words for “Silent Night,” and two years later, in need of a hymn for Christmas Eve, he paid a visit to his friend Franz Gruber, a school teacher who was also the church’s choirmaster and asked him to compose the music for his lyrics.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That night, at Midnight Mass, Gruber and Father Mohr, playing on the guitar, gave the world one of its most beloved carols.

Eventually, “Silent Night” was translated into more than 300 languages and is today sung around the world. One fascinating historical note: During World War I’s Christmas Eve truce of 1914, soldiers from both sides of no man’s land gathered and sang the carol in English and German.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Secular Songs of the Season

The past 100 years have seen an explosion of non-religious holiday songs. Of these, “White Christmas” remains one of the most popular, and again the music comes with a special story.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Russian-born Irving Berlin who gave us such hits as “God Bless America” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” also wrote “White Christmas.” Though the Jewish composer didn’t celebrate this holiday, some have speculated he may have written the song in memory of his 3-week-old son who died in 1928 on Christmas Day. For years afterward, Berlin and his wife annually visited their son’s grave on that day. Certainly, the opening lines and the slow, rather melancholy tune might point to such a loss:

  • I’m dreaming of a white Christmas/Just like the ones I used to know/Where the treetops glisten and children listen/ To hear sleigh bells in the snow
Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1941, Bing Crosby first brought the newly published “White Christmas” to the airwaves just days after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. During the war, whenever Crosby appeared overseas to entertain the troops, the soldiers, again and again, requested this song.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“I hesitated about doing it because invariably it caused such a nostalgic yearning among the men, that it made them sad,” Crosby said in an interview. “Heaven knows, I didn’t come that far to make them sad. For this reason, several times I tried to cut it out of the show, but these guys just hollered for it.”

Another Christmas tradition: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Those men wanted that reminder of home and what they were fighting for.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cultural Bonds

If we explore the origins and histories of such songs and carols, we find that many of them come with these special stories. In “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” for example, some believe that the gifts mentioned in the song, from a partridge in a pear tree to 12 drummers drumming, refer to certain symbols of the Catholic faith while others contend this strange array of presents derives from a child’s memory game.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While learning these stories can be fun and instructive, it’s the music we know and love. It’s a small bit of that glue that binds us together as a people. We would be hard-pressed to find a child, or an adult for that matter, who had never heard of Rudolph or The Grinch. Whatever our religious beliefs, we’re familiar with “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” We may not know the words, but we can hum along with songs like “Little Drummer Boy” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

Another Christmas tradition: O Christmas Tree, Don’t Fall Off my SUV

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved MERA

How mainstream is your taste in Christmas music?

Compare your faves to the most-streamed Christmas songs on Spotify this holiday season:

  • “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey (written and recorded in 1994)
  • “Last Christmas” by Wham! (another 1994 recording)
  • “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (written and recorded in 1951)
  • “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms (recorded in 1957)
  • “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee (recorded in 1958)
Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To my readers, I’ll conclude by way of one more song title: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas!”

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!

―Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Christmas Gift Ideas 2021

Shop from this list of Christmas gifts to find ideas that your RVing friend or family member will love

Have you put some thought into your holiday gift-giving this year? The way we shop and the intention behind gift-giving is changing. The global pandemic illuminated, for many of us, what is truly important and what our real needs are. This new way of viewing our lives may be reflected in how we give gifts—giving what is important and special over just giving to give.

Ready for Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With threats of supply issues leading to empty shelves at big box stores, the joy of finding that perfect gift may be a little harder this year. Just maybe, shopping local might be the way to find that joy in gift-giving this year. You’ll be putting money right back into your community and find unique gifts not available at big box stores.

Ready for Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the RVer and outdoor enthusiasts in your life? Following are six gift ideas or you can even add them to your own Christmas wish list.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gifts for National Park Travelers

Gifts for National Park enthusiasts do more than tap into the spirit of the great outdoors—they celebrate America’s longstanding tradition of preserving awe-inspiring landscapes. Decade after decade, new generations of visitors come to these stunning spaces, eager to experience the vastness of untouched scenery.

Related: National Parks at their Spectacular Best in Winter

Wondering what to get a National Park fan for the holidays this year? Here are two gift suggestions for National Park visitors. 

Saguaro National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America the Beautiful Pass: The America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass offers free entry to all National Parks—including Joshua Tree, Olympic, and Arches—for the recipient and up to three other adults for 12 months. The pass also covers visitors at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites in total. $80 from recreation.gov.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Parks Pocket Notebooks: These National Parks-themed memo books from Field Notes are a stylish and convenient spot for outdoor enthusiasts to journal about their experiences in nature. Packed in a set of three, each notebook features vintage-style art from a specific National Park, along with a brief history of that park printed inside of the front cover. Each notebook has a brief history of its park printed inside the front cover, followed by 48 pages of graph-rules paper for all your note-jotting needs. $13 for a set of three from bespokepost.com.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set of three pocket notebooks currently available are:

  • Rocky Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains, and Yellowstone National Parks
  • Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, and Mount Rainier National Parks
  • Yosemite, Zion, and Acadia National Parks
Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks Christmas Tree Ornaments

For 20 years, the annual park Christmas ornament has featured some of the most recognizable Texas State Parks landscapes. The metal ornament features photo-quality artwork in stunning color with rich, laser-etched textures and detail. This year, the ornament features a longhorn from the official state longhorn herd at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site.

Enchanted Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Christmas ornament can be purchased exclusively on the new Texas State Park Online Store for $19.95 each, with free shipping. Purchase by Thursday, December 10 for likely arrival before Christmas. Taxes will be applied at check out.

Related: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other items available for purchase include the Texas State Parks Pass which allows a carload of visitors into the park for free for a calendar year, a Bluebonnet metal bookmark, a wooden Texas State Park magnet and sticker, state park zipper pulls and key rings, hiking stick medallions, and ornaments from previous years.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Give the Great Outdoors: Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites Gift Cards

Give the gift of the great outdoors this holiday season. With no shortage of possibilities, gift cards are the perfect solution to the gift-giving conundrum. Gift cards are perfect for golfers, hikers, anglers, campers, history buffs, or anyone who enjoys being outdoors. The credit-card-sized card may be bought in any denomination starting at $5 and can be purchased at most Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites or online at gastateparks.org.

Stephen Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 60 state parks across Georgia, there are many ways to treat family or friends to a year of outdoor fun. State Park Annual ParkPasses are $50 and help fund trail work, dock maintenance, and shelter renovations. Half-off ParkPass discounts are available for seniors 62 and older, as well as 25 percent off for active-duty military and veterans.

Squeeze 18 outings into one little card with a Historic Site Annual Pass. Available passes include adult ($30) and family ($50).

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Fido out in the great outdoors with the Georgia State Parks’ Tails on Trails Club. The quest challenges dog hikers to explore 12 specific trails at Georgia State Parks. Members get a bragging-rights t-shirt and matching bandana for Bailey. Finish them all and get a certificate of completion to show off on social media.

Jekyll Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most state parks have gift shops where you can snag an ENO hammock, KAVU pack, or blanket to snuggle up in as the colder weather creeps upon us. While browsing, pick up a gift with hometown roots including Georgia Grown items, local honey, nature-themed books, clothes, and toys.

Related: Christmas Gift Ideas 2019

Looking for a stocking stuffer or gag gift to get a laugh? Forget coal and throw in a bag of cricket chips or a scorpion lollipop. Many quirky white-elephant gifts are available inside state parks and historic site visitor’s centers.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gift of Adventure: Arizona State Parks

Give the gift of adventure this holiday season with an Arizona State Parks and Trails Annual Pass or Gift Card for those hard to shop for outdoorsy friends and family members who love spending time in nature. An annual pass or Gift Card is a gift that keeps on giving, all year long.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual day use pass allows access for up to four people to state parks throughout Arizona. A day-use pass opens the door to exploring every corner of the state. History lovers can explore the stories of the past at the state historic museums. Pair it with Roger Naylor’s book, Arizona State Parks: A Guide to Amazing Places in the Grand Canyon State for a gift set they’ll use all year long.

Lost Dutchman Stae Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks Gift Cards may be purchased online (azstateparks.com) in denominations of $25, $50, $100, and $200. Gift Cards are accepted at Arizona State Parks for entry, camping, and reservations fees so your gift of the outdoors can be used all year long, all over the state.

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Green jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All of Texas Under the Tree!

Give the full Great Texas Wildlife Trails 9-map set for $25. Texas Parks & Wildlife is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Great Texas Wildlife Trails. Order a special, newly updated 3-map set of the original coastal trails for $10. The full set of the Great Texas Wildlife Trail maps provides a guide to discover more than 900 of the best wildlife viewing spots in Texas. This is a gift that keeps giving year-round!

Great kiskadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Order a full set of Great Texas Wildlife Trails for $25 or get a single map of your choice for $5. To order, visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wildlife/wildlife-trails. Order by December 11 for likely arrival before Christmas.

A Hug

A hug is a great gift—one size fits all!!!

Worth Pondering…

Christmas is a tonic for our souls. It moves us to think of others rather than of ourselves. It directs our thoughts to giving.

—B. C. Forbes

Christmas 2020 Message from RVing with Rex

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

It’s Christmas week, the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas fellow RVers, campers, snowbirds and Winter Texans, wanna-bes, birders, photographers, hikers, and everyone who loves the great out-of-doors…and all readers!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to the madness of 2020, Thanksgiving came and went with a whimper this year. It’s a bummer, for sure, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t still take part in outdoor activities.

It’s been said for months that 2020 is not a typical year. No surprise there! RVers know so firsthand. Canadians have had to cancel their annual U.S. migrations, thwarted by border closures. Folks who normally spend short-sleeve time with friends at resorts and rallies in the South have had to reschedule thanks to cancellations and other safety measures.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These are volatile, uncertain, and complex times but with wide-scale vaccinations we are looking forward to a brighter, more social tomorrow. RVing will continue to be a safe means of travel where self-contained environments ensure security and flexibility.

But despite 2020’s impact on traveling, socializing, dining, and more, we still can make the best of the situation. Folks whose RVs are nestled all snug in their, er, storage areas can embrace the world outside their door and view a pristine snowfall. Inside our RVs, we can start a new hobby, catch up on our reading, or reconnect with other household members. And plan a future road trip!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As usual my regular postings will continue daily throughout Christmas week and into the New Year.

May you all have a heartfelt and happy Christmas.

May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!

Forget sugar plums!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you drift off to sleep tonight,

I’ll be dreaming of fabulous RV destinations I’d love to visit,

Acadia, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, and Yellowstone national parks

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowbird Christmas

Cranky as an RV space heater,

I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,

Wait for the coffee pot to finish playing

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reveille to my numb mind.

Shuffling around the RV Park,

Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,

Cackling like contented

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chickens under the hot Texas sun.

A grateful respite from grueling

Gray cold fronts of International Falls,

Winnipeg, and Green Bay.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid chants of Go Packers Go!

A time of celebration and decorations

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes,

Wal-Mart Santas and reindeer

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,

Fifth wheel trailers and old converted buses.

Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather

In the clubhouse by the artificial tree

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times

Speaking of children in childish voices.

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

Whatever seasonal celebrations you take part in—and for the unexpected downtime you may have—we wish you joy and happiness. We’ll be right alongside you in January as we usher in a brand-new year!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sing it with us: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!

I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Christmas gifts ideas for outdoor lovers

Christmas is a great time to get out and visit a state park. There’s something for just about everyone this time of year when you visit a state park. Celebrate the chill in the air, the smell of a campfire, and quality time with friends and family.

What do you get for the person who has it all? Sometimes the best gifts aren’t things, but experiences. Make this the year you give the gift of outdoor recreation with any one of these state park options.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia State Parks Membership & Gift Cards

Share the gift of the great outdoors at the 60 Georgia State Parks and affiliated sites which span a variety of landscapes from mountains to coast to marsh. The parks system also includes historic sites like the retreats of presidents, battlefields, and Native American sites. The parks have amenities like hiking trails, ziplining, and camping. You can purchase Georgia State Parks gift cards to be used throughout the parks. You also can purchase Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites gift memberships which include a year’s worth of entry into affiliated parks. Extended passes include free nights of camping, discounted lodging, and discounts on picnic shelters.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island

Just north of the Florida border, this bite-sized barrier island off the coast of Georgia was once the wintering grounds of banking elites with surnames like Rockefeller and Morgan. Today Jekyll Island is 100 percent state park: beautiful, bikeable, and blissfully chill. Days are best spent on the island’s many bike trails, exploring maritime forests and driftwood-covered beaches, and eating all the shrimp and grits you can handle.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now through January 3, Jekyll packs a ton of Christmas spirit into its small acreage. And while programming looks different this year due to the pandemic, they’ve got parades, fireworks, drive-in holiday movies, and a few Santa sightings on tap. Even if you skip the events, the island’s atmosphere is straight-up magical: Its historic houses and oak-lined lanes are decked out with over a half a million twinkling lights.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park

Known across the country because of its International Dark Sky Designation, this breath-taking park is the western entrance of the Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders. It is a can’t-miss attraction for astronomy fans. As the temperature continues to drop, head for Stephen C. Foster State Park for the abundance of stars that illuminate the sky after the sun sets. Reserve a guided pontoon boat tour of the swamp, kayak out on your own, or bundle up for a cool walk on 1.5 miles of hiking trails. You’ll get an intimate look at the variety of wildlife that calls this park home. Visitors can stay overnight in a wooded campground or fully equipped cabins.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks Annual Pass & Gift Cards

Give the gift of adventure this holiday season with an Arizona State Parks and Trails Annual Pass or Gift Card for those hard to shop for outdoorsy friends and family members who love spending time in nature. An annual pass or Gift Card is a gift that keeps on giving, all year long. These outdoor related gifts are designed to continually provide excitement, entertainment, and adventure throughout this amazingly beautiful state. By providing a gift of adventure and fun for your friends and family, your gift will help create memories.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks Gift Cards may be purchased online in denominations of $25, $50, $100, and $200. Gift Cards are accepted at Arizona State Parks for entry, camping, and reservations fees so your gift of the outdoors can be used all year long at all the state parks.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park offers a classic Southwestern outdoor experience for visitors to Sedona and Red Rock Country. The beautiful red rocks and local wildlife can be viewed and enjoyed as you hike the 5-mile trail network around this 286-acrenpark. Nearby attractions include Red Rock Scenic Byway, Slide Rock State Park, Oak Creek Canyon, Coconino National Forest, and Prescott National Forest.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama State Parks gift cards

Looking for a different Christmas gift this year? How about an Alabama State Parks gift card? From hiking and biking to dining and lodging, these gift cards are the gift that keeps on giving. This is a great idea for introducing someone new to all the outdoor recreational opportunities available in the state parks. 

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks Special Events & Christmas Ornaments

Let Texas State Parks add something special to your winter holidays. Try your hand at a craft project, go on a holiday scavenger hunt, decorate a campsite, or sip some hot cocoa on a hike. Take part in a special event or choose a unique gift.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Join the Buffalo Soldiers at LBJ State Park and Historic Site, as they bring in the Christmas holiday with engaging stories and displays that highlight Texas history and daily life of soldiers on the trail.  Listen to what Christmas meant to the soldiers and how they celebrated with their families over 150 years ago. Make a candle the old frontier way and gift it this holiday season or try cooking your own piece of Christmas hard tack. Stop by to view artifacts and listen to tales of the early frontier for the whole family.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas State Park ornament program began in 2002 to celebrate the diversity and beauty of Texas state parks. Each ornament features the natural, cultural, and historical resources that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department protects. You’ll find images of building, wildlife, plants, and some of the many outdoor activities that you can enjoy at the state parks and historic sites across Texas. This year’s ornament spotlights the ever-growing sport of kayaking, featuring Sea Rim State Park.

Worth Pondering…

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

—Norman Vincent Peale

Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

In defense of the fruitcake

We all know what a fruitcake is, or at least we think we do. Culturally, it’s become a holiday punch line, the subject of a joke that is repackaged every Christmas. The food has seen ridicule the better half of a century but few people under 40 have even tried a fruitcake much less hated the taste enough to inspire such seasonal scorn.

Collin Street Bakery DeLuxe Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment fruitcake became a parody but many refer to a certain talk show as ground zero of its downfall. Johnny Carson famously quipped, “The worst Christmas gift is fruitcake… There is only one fruitcake in the entire world and people keep sending it to each other, year after year.” This single joke evolved into a Tonight Show holiday tradition of ripping on fruitcake, year after year.

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since Carson’s joke happened in the ’60s, I needed to dig deeper. I needed to sink my teeth into the fruitcake’s mystique. Much of the resentment towards fruitcake stems from what Americans have come to believe it is. What we envision as fruitcake is a quickly assembled, cheaply constructed facsimile. Basing all your fruitcake hate on these assembly-line counterfeits is like saying you don’t like hamburgers because you aren’t a fan of McDonald’s. This is the problem.

Collin Street Bakery Fruitcake container © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conventional fruitcake really does suck. Like a tasteless brick of cake. But, made correctly with choice ingredients, fruitcakes are flavorful and moist. Mass-produced fruitcakes, the kind that most people are exposed to during the holidays, are nothing like what a fruitcake should be. A fruitcake should be rich, it should taste like dried fruit and nuts and spices. It should have a moist texture—it’s not supposed to be dry and crusty.

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The practical definition of a “fruitcake” isn’t particularly obvious or apparent. A fruitcake is composed of a bread base, dried or candied fruit, and nuts. It can have myriad spices and flavorings but as long as it’s composed of those three essentials, it is a fruitcake. Shape—whether it’s a log, a bundt-cake situation, or something else entirely—makes no difference.

Gladys’ Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because fruitcake is so loosely defined, versions exist all over the world. The fruitcake was introduced to North America by way of Europe in the 16th century but it wasn’t until mail order fruitcakes became available in 1913 that it became the lazy man’s go-to gift.

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These fruitcakes included lots of nuts which is where the expression “nutty as a fruitcake” was derived in 1935. Most American mass-produced fruitcakes are alcohol-free but numerous traditional recipes are saturated with liqueurs or brandy. The key to a perfect one are moisture and taste—and they do taste good when multiple flavors are combined.

Collin Street Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a modern fruitcake model consider the Collin Street Bakery’s classic. A family-owned-and-operated bakery, located in Corsicana, Texas, has been baking their “world-famous DeLuxe Fruitcake” since 1896. The Fruitcake and Pecan Cake they produce today is still baked true to the Old-World recipe brought from Wiesbaden, Germany by master baker Gus Weidmann. He and his partner, Tom McElwee, built a lively business in turn-of-the-century Corsicana which included an elegant hotel on the top floor of the bakery. Many famous guests enjoyed their fine hospitality including Enrico Caruso, Will Rogers, John J. McGraw, “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, and John Ringling.

Collin Street Bakery DeLuxe Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In fact, the bakery was thrust into the mail order business when Mr. Ringling’s circus troupe upon tasting the mouth-watering DeLuxe Fruitcake asked to have these Christmas Cakes sent to family and friends throughout Europe. And so began an international Christmas cake gift tradition.

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Numerous variations of the Deluxe Fruitcake and Texas Pecan cakes are now available along with a variety of cheesecakes, specialty cakes, pecan pies, cookies, and gift sets.

Is a fruitcake revival possible? The big trick: getting people to actually try good, homemade fruitcakes. If you make it right, it takes considerable time. You should soak the fruit for days at a time to make sure they are plump and moist. It’s a noble dessert and it deserves another shot.

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you think you don’t like fruitcake then it’s time for you to try one from Gladys’ Bakery in Weimer, Texas. It’s not your typical fruit cake! Ranging from 1 pound to 150 pounds, and in various shapes, these old fashioned Czech fruitcakes are the cream of the crop. 

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gladys’ Bakery has created an original pecan cake whose tops are solidly covered with rows of cherries and pecan halves. Bitter citron, raisins, and dates are left out leaving a satisfying pecan taste mixed with fresh cherries and pineapples. Have a slice with a cup of coffee or your favorite tea or Blue Bell ice cream and you’ll be hooked. It is a cake to be enjoyed all year long, not just at Christmas.

Gladys’ Bakery roasted pecans © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gladys’ Bakery offers an amazing range of delicious baked goods including Pecan Pies, Texas Sized Cookies, Angel Food Cakes, Cinnamon Coated Pecans, and Apple Strudel. If you want to taste the goodness of home cooking, try one of these specialties.

When Gladys decided to try her hand at making a fruitcake her goal was to change the way the world thought of it. Gladys boasted that her fruitcakes were loaded with fresh pecans with just enough batter to hold it all together with no raisins, dates, spices, or citron. The first year, she mixed everything by hand and sold about 1,000 pounds worth.

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1990 Gladys appeared on the Johnny Carson Show and the following year she was a guest on The David Letterman Show to show off her 150 pound Texas-shaped fruitcake. Gladys’ fruitcakes are shipped around the world and are in a class of their own. Fruit cakes seem to be Texas treasures and Gladys’ cakes are pure gold! 

Gladys’ Bakery Fruitcake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The American palate is primed for a fruitcake revival. So, if there are any pastry chefs out there who are up to the challenge, I’m here, waiting to try your homemade fruitcake. I promise I won’t make fun of it.

Worth Pondering…

Friends are the fruitcake of life—some nutty, some soaked in alcohol, some sweet.

—Jon Ronson

Christmas 2019 Message from RVing with Rex

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

It’s Christmas week, the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas fellow RVers, campers, snowbirds and Winter Texans, wanna-bes, birders, photographers, hikers, and everyone who loves the great out-of-doors…and all readers!

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thank you for your readership this past year!

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy holiday season.

May the miracle of this wonderful season fill your heart with peace and happiness and bless your life throughout the year.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merry Christmas are words of hope and joy.

We sometimes lose the focus of this holiday season. Shopping, wrapping presents, and sending Christmas cards. Planning dinner, cleaning, and decorating often distracts from the reason for the Season.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we approach Christmas Eve we’re back in the Great State of Texas enjoying the Southern sunshine and warmth, discovering the beauty and diversity of the area, and indulging the palate in tasty Texas BBQ, fruit and cream kolaches, and pralines—and pecan pie with Blue Bell icecream.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As usual my regular postings will continue daily throughout Christmas week and into the New Year.

May you all have a heartfelt and happy Christmas.

May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!

Forget sugar plums!

When you drift off to sleep tonight,

I’ll be dreaming of fabulous RV destinations I’d love to visit,

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Acadia, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, and Yellowstone national parks

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

Snowbird Christmas

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cranky as an RV space heater,

I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,

Wait for the coffee pot to finish playing

Reveille to my numb mind.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shuffling around the RV Park,

Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,

Cackling like contented

Chickens under the hot Texas sun.

A grateful respite from grueling

Gray cold fronts of International Falls,

Winnipeg, and Green Bay.

Amid chants of Go Packers Go!

A time of celebration and decorations

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes,

Wal-Mart Santas and reindeer

A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,

Fifth wheel trailers and old converted buses.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather

In the clubhouse by the artificial tree

Reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times

Speaking of children in childish voices.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!

Christmas Gift Ideas 2019

Shop from this list of Christmas gifts to find ideas that your RVing friend or family member will love

It’s the time of year when Christmas carols fill the air, the smell of fir trees (or cactus or palm trees, depending on your location) waft through the RV, jolly thoughts of eggnog and food—and gifts are exchanged.

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the RVer in your life? Following are six gift ideas or you can even add them to your own Christmas wish list.

The Gift of Adventure

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Give the gift of adventure this holiday season with an Arizona State Parks and Trails Annual Pass or Gift Card for friends and family members who love spending time in nature. An annual pass or Gift Card is a gift that keeps on giving, all year long.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual day use pass allows access for up to four people to state parks throughout Arizona. Plus, with every purchase of an Arizona State Parks & Trails annual pass you will receive a free year-long subscription to Arizona Highways magazine. Pair it with Roger Naylor’s new book, Arizona State Parks: A Guide to Amazing Places in the Grand Canyon State for a gift set they’ll use all year long.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details: azstateparks.com; (602) 542-4174

KatySweet

KatySweet © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Company founder Kay Carlton started KatySweet Confectioners in 1996 with a recipe passed down from her Cherokee grandmother to her mother to her. Kay spent several years developing the recipe for the commercial market without sacrificing the homemade taste.

KatySweet © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Her pralines are some of the few natural products on the candy market today. Using a two-kettle method to achieve a creamy praline, you’ll never get a dry, gritty taste when you bite into a KatySweet Praline. And, KatySweet candy is made to order, so it’s always fresh.

KatySweet © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What a great ready to give treat! Choose your favorite flavor from the 2 oz. Original Creamy, Texas Style Chewy, or No Sugar Added Chewy Praline. Six candies in a see-through gift box.

KatySweet © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details: katysweet.com; (800) 419-2056

Texas State Parks

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks offer gift-giving solutions to the nature lover in your life. Texas State Park gift cards can be redeemed for park passes, entry, and overnight fees, in-store purchases, and more.

Enchanted Rock State Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas State Park ornament program began in 2002 to celebrate the diversity and beauty of the Texas State Park System. Each ornament features the natural, cultural, and historical resources that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department protects. This year’s redesigned ornament features the Lighthouse of Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details: tpwd.texas.gov; (512) 389-8900

Don’s Specialty Meats

Don’s Specialty Meats © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy delicious boudin from Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott, Louisiana—The Boudin Capital of the World. Don’s boudin has been voted “Best Boudin in Acadiana” nine years. This regional authentic Cajun food is a favorite for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, is homemade daily, like Mom and Pop made at their house.

Don’s Specialty Meats © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A delicious combination of rice, ground pork, and flavorful seasonings stuffed into sausage casings, boudin is an unique American sausage and regional specialty of Louisiana’s cajun culture. Several boudin variants in addition to the traditional boudin link include boudin stuffed with seafood, boudin balls, links, burritos, pistolettes, and tater tots.

Don’s Specialty Meats © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details: donspecialtymeats.com; (866) 793-3667

Collin Street Bakery

Collin Street Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Collin Street, a family owned and operated bakery has been making world-famous baked goods for over 120 years. Still baked true to the original recipe, their Fruitcakes and Pecan Cakes have reached international acclaim and are shipped to 196 countries. The Fruitcake or Pecan Cake you order is still baked true to the Old-World recipe brought to Corsicana, Texas from Wiesbaden, Germany in 1896 by master baker Gus Weidmann.

Collin Street Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other baked products include Fruitcake Petites, Miniture Prcan Cakes, Strawberry Pecan Cake, Cherry Fudge Pecan Cake, and Deep Dish Pecan Pie.

Collin Street Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details: collinstreet.com; (800) 672-5216

A Hug

A hug is a great gift—one size fits all!!!

Worth Pondering…

Christmas is a tonic for our souls. It moves us to think of others rather than of ourselves. It directs our thoughts to giving.

—B. C. Forbes