The Christmas Village

While most people in the Western world are concentrated on Christmas, other cultures celebrate their own holidays. The DeGolyer house at the Dallas Arboretum has been transformed into a showcase for these celebrations. Some, such as Diwali (from India) have already passed back in October, but others are to come.

Dubbed The Artistry of Faith & Culture, each major room in the historic home is decorated according to the culture represented:  Shabbat, Hannukah, Kwanzaa and Christmas. First, something on the 21,000 sq-ft. home. It was built for Everette DeGolyer (1886-1956) between 1938 and 1940 and has a very understated exterior, in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The house made it to the prestigious National Register of Historic Places in 1974.


Following the DeGolyers’ deaths, the DeGolyer Foundation donated the house, grounds, and library to Southern Methodist University. The library was retained by the University, and the house and grounds were purchased by the City of Dallas in 1975. Some of the book collection is now at the University of Texas here in Austin.

DeGolyer was a famous petroleum geologist and rare book collector. For me, the highlight of the house is the 1,750 sq ft library (pictured here with Christmas decorations), big enough to house 15,000 books. But he amassed a collection of more than 80,000 books! Despite its size, the library has a cozy feeling, with the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves interrupted by a welcoming fireplace surmounted by a painting of Mr. DeGolyer.

The figures from Cameroon

The living room with the coffered ceiling is the most imposing in the house. It is now decorated with Kwanzaa-related objects including wooden sculptures of a Cameroon couple. They have beaded heads, symbolizing male/female relationships and family. The sculptures are situated in front of a grand tapestry (10 x 15 feet) made in the 16th century. Entitled The Roman Wars, it depicts a Cavalry melee with bearded spearmen in furious combat.

There are two links between the displays in the house and the Austin Gay Men’s Chorus. They began their annual Christmas concert last weekend with a traditional song from Cameroon. And in the room dedicated to Jewish culture, the house has a fine display of dreidel on a tray.  Read my review of the concert here:

Seven Swans a-swimming

The real big draws here at the Arboretum are outdoors. There is a Christmas market, with several vendors selling their wares, and a delightful Christmas Village. I walked into one building where Santa and Mrs. Claus were wrapping my gifts! Visiting other buildings you can get free nibbles of food and other things.

Scattered throughout the gardens is the most extraordinary display of all: the entire 12 Days of Christmas in a dozen pavilions that brings all the animals and characters to life in full-size figures. (Note the 12 Days is another song featured by the Gay Chorus in Austin!) I am showing here just the ‘seven swans a-swimming’ but all the others are amazing too. My favourite (being Scottish) was ‘11 pipers playing.’ Many of the figures move individually and they are all set in motion with music, around the central axis. Truly spectacular and well worth the admission fee, even without all the rest.

In brief, the Dallas Arboretum is Christmas Central for Texas. Go and visit before the Holiday display ends Dec. 31



The Christmas Village

By Dr. Cliff Cunningham

Dr. Cliff Cunningham is a planetary scientist, the acknowledged expert on the 19th century study of asteroids. He is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He serves as Editor of the History & Cultural Astronomy book series published by Springer; and Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage. Asteroid 4276 in space was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union based in the recommendation of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Cunningham has written or edited 15 books. His PhD is in the History of Astronomy, and he also holds a BA in Classical Studies.