Christmas trees are an iconic part of the holiday, and cowboys and cowgirls enjoy a big, festive tree as much as anyone. Instead of fake plastic trees from a box, many cowboys opt for pines cut fresh from the forest. If they're lucky enough to live in the mountains, this means snowshoes, a saw, and a trek into the wilderness. Cowboys closer to the city pack into the truck and head into town to buy a big, healthy evergreen to spruce up the house. Traditional tree skirts are swapped for southwest-patterned blankets or spreads with images of cowboys and bucking broncs. Colorful glass ball ornaments are replaced by tiny cowboy hats and horse ornaments, and white lights add a soft, homey touch to the pale green branches. An old cowboy hat replaces the traditional angel at the top of the tree, gritty with the dust of countless arenas from the road. A wreath of prized belt buckles graces the front door, a symbol of many hard-fought victories on the rodeo circuit.
Small tokens of appreciation are common during the holidays, and few people are more generous than a group of cowboys and cowgirls. No ugly sweaters or boring ties are allowed in during a true cowboy Christmas celebration. A small box might contain a silver-accented leather watch, a brightly-pattered handkerchief or a new horsehair hatband. New boots are always an unexpected surprise, and the unforgettable fragrance of new leather fills the air, mingling with the scents of hearty food and drink. For the hardcore bull rider, a new safety vest or helmet are excellent gifts to stay safe after an uncomfortable dismount. Ropers and barrel racers often splurge on their horses for Christmas, and new saddles, tack and ropes are not uncommon to find under a carefully-decorated tree. Pint-sized cowboys and cowgirls charge through the house on new stick horses, or build their own little empires with plastic ponies and toy cattle. Even farm dogs get a little treat during the holidays, and chew nosily on fresh bones or strips of real rawhide. If it's been a particularly good year on the ranch, a new truck or trailer may even be parked out in the driveway.
Few people enjoy food more than hungry cowboys, and Christmas is the perfect time to prepare a massive spread. While turkey and ham may be staples in most holiday meals, dinner on the ranch is an entirely different animal, literally. Beef, especially on cattle ranches, reigns supreme at nearly every meal, and Christmas dinner is no exception. A hearty, juicy beef roast or a platter of thick, seasoned steaks often take center stage, surrounded by a host of innovate side dishes. Some cowboys opt for a more exotic meat, with deer or elk taking place of more traditional meats. No boring mashed potatoes on a ranch table; fragrant garlic mashed potatoes or cheesy scalloped potatoes with home-grown bacon sit side-by-side with green chili and corn pudding. Desserts are also a cause for celebration, with favorites such as pumpkin and cherry pies sharing the table with quirky apple brown betty and chocolate sheet cake. It's a rare ranch celebration without adult beverages, and frosty beer and spiked cider flow as freely as rodeo stories and memories of life on the road.