The Great Giddings Christmas Tree Robbery

This historical photo of the interior of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Fedor was donated to the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum Archives by the Lillie Moerbe Caldwell Estate and is used with permission.

Žohnowane hody (that’s “Merry Christmas” in Upper Sorbian, aka Wendish) from Lee County, Texas!*

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted any history, but I’ve been saving this one up for all y’all because it’s seasonally appropriate!

(Okay, truth be told I wrote this before Christmas and it’s been just waiting for me to take most of the photos… which I did today. Yes, we took a Christmas road trip to Lee County, and it was fantastic!)

In any case, today I’ve got a historical Wendish crime story, straight out of Giddings!**

Many, many years ago, during the pastorate of the Rev. Gotthilf Birkmann, the folks at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Fedor generally acquired the Christmas tree for the church from somewhere down around Warda. These days they can be found a little closer (I know there’s a Christmas Tree farm out toward Loebau) but in those days if you wanted a nice, tall cedar, Warda was the place to go.

And so one year a farmer from Fedor set off for Warda to get the church’s Christmas tree. Now this was before the advent of the automobile (“advent”… get it? haha!) and so this farmer’s mode of transportation was a horse-drawn wagon.

In one of his many articles published by the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, Pastor Birkmann wrote that it took him several hours to ride into Giddings, so getting to Warda and back was probably an all-day affair.

Well, after procuring the Christmas tree, the farmer decided to stop in Giddings to do some business. Perhaps he was looking for some lunch (though unfortunately for him, I don’t think City Meat Market was around at this time) but we really don’t know. In any case, I like to imagine that he must have tied up around the courthouse (the source of this story doesn’t say one way or the other).

When the time came for him to resume his trip home, he found everything just as he left it… with the exception of the Christmas tree. It was gone.

So he made his way back home, sans tree, where he reported: “I had a tree, but they stole it from me!”

Fortunately, the folks from Fedor were able to find a much smaller tree to use that year, but I’m sure they must have wondered what happened to their fine Warda tree.

Some weeks later, they got their answer.

The Presbyterians had stolen it!

You see, the very day that the farmer tied up his wagon in Giddings with the tree in the back, a tree was to be delivered to the Presbyterian Church in town. (This would be the church that’s across the street from the courthouse… now do you see why I like to think that the farmer must have tied up his wagon on the square?)

So when the Presbyterians arrived to set up their tree and saw the tree in the back of the wagon, they just assumed it was theirs.

I imagine they were pretty confused when the tree that was actually intended for them showed up a little later!

Once they were able to ascertain the true owner of the tree, one of the men from the church sheepishly apologized to Pastor Birkmann.

Now about the pictures… the primary photo is of course not mine. It was donated to the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum Archives by the Lillie Moerbe Caldwell Estate and is used with permission. It shows the original altar set up in the church, along with a Christmas tree (maybe one of those nice, tall Warda trees!). In 1952, the original altar and pulpit were removed (and the organ was moved to approximately where the tree is in this photo) so it predates that.

I’ve also included a photo of the interior of Holy Trinity taken today, plus photos from inside St. Paul’s Serbin and Holy Cross Warda from today, the exterior of St. John’s in Lincoln, and a few other shots around town… including First Presbyterian Church in Giddings (the unwitting Christmas tree thieves).

This is He whom Heaven-taught singers
Sang of old with one accord;
Whom the Scriptures of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word.
Now He shines, the Long-expected;
Let creation praise its Lord
Evermore and evermore.

“Of the Father’s Love Begotten” v4 (TLH #98)

* Okay, okay… I know. Warda is in Fayette County. But 9/11 of the photos are from Lee County! And I can only tag one location in my post.

** The source of this story is an oral interview given to Arthur C. Repp by Pr. Birkmann; you can read the article in which it is found here (which includes much more history):…/daughters-of-serbin-1870-1905-hi…/

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