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Buck Ramsey's "Christmas Waltz"

While cowboy poetry is a genuinely American genre, cowboys worldwide share the same traditions & values of living close to nature & to God.

Introduction and Text of "Christmas Waltz"

Buck Ramsey is considered the "Father of Cowboy Poetry." Many of his poems, which have also been rendered in song, have become classics in the cowboy poetry genre.

Ramsey's "Christmas Waltz" stages a cowboy Christmas celebration with a tree from the big ranch that was selected way back in summer. The ranch hands then experience a rambunctious good time as they acknowledge their joy in the birth of a "baby boy born in a cow shed."

This traditionally flavored ballad offers many colorful images of cowboy culture from the American West as the folks prepare for a big feast to recognize and celebrate their faith that keeps them grounded throughout the year.

Christmas Waltz

The winter is here and the old year is passing,
The sun in its circle winds far in the south.
It's time to bring cheer to a cold, snowbound cow camp,
It's Christmas tree time of the year for the house.

Go ride to the cedar break rim of a canyon,
Down by where the river takes creek water clear,
And saddle-sleigh home us a fine shapely evergreen
Picked out while prowling the pasture this year.

While Fair strings the berries and popcorn and whatnots
And Ty braids the wreaths out of leather and vines,
Old Dunder, he whittles and whistles old carols
And fills them with stories of fine olden times . . .

To read the entire poem, please visit "Christmas Waltz" at KNAU and Arizona News.

Musical Version Buck Ramsey's "Christmas Waltz"

Commentary

A cowboy Christmas filled with family, friends, and good times allows the narrator to colorfully describe even scientific facts.

First Stanza: It Winter Time

The winter is here and the old year is passing,
The sun in its circle winds far in the south.
It's time to bring cheer to a cold, snowbound cow camp,
It's Christmas tree time of the year for the house.

The cowboy/speaker starts off his celebration of the Christmas season by reporting, "winter is here"; he continues to offer a description of the time of year by averring that the old year is almost over, and the sun has moved "far to the south."

Around Christmas time, the sun is in the Topic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere; thus, the speaker colorfully reports that scientific fact, "sun in its circle winds far in the south."

Interestingly, the speaker then describes the Christmas holiday season as being "Christmas tree time" at the ranch, placing emphasis on the tree as the center of decoration for the season.

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The speaker is full of joy that a big Christmas tree will soon stand tall in the ranch house.

Second Stanza: The Big Christmas Tree

Go ride to the cedar break rim of a canyon,
Down by where the river takes creek water clear,
And saddle-sleigh home us a fine shapely evergreen
Picked out while prowling the pasture this year.

The cowboy/speaker then reports to his audience where that big Christmas tree comes from: during the summer, while looking over the pasture, the speaker had spotted the perfect tree that stood down along the river where the water was clear as crystal.

The speaker had made a mental note to remember exactly where it stood so he could send another cowboy to fetch it as Christmas time was on its way. He so admired that "shapely evergreen" that he had no difficulty remembering exactly where he saw it.

Third Stanza: Fair Decorating

While Fair strings the berries and popcorn and whatnots
And Ty braids the wreaths out of leather and vines,
Old Dunder, he whittles and whistles old carols
And fills them with stories of fine olden times.

A gal named "Fair" will help decorate the grand tree with berries and popcorn on a string. Another cow-hand named "Ty" will put up wreaths fashioned out of vines and leather.

While each ranch hand attends to his part in the decorating, the old cowboy they call "Old Dunder" will be whittling while he whistles old Christmas carols, and he will be telling stories of the olden days.

The speaker makes it clear that everyone involved with this celebration is fulled with the joy of the season as they tend to their appointed tasks. Each member of the party, no doubt, looks forward to the fine gathering they are anticipating as they work to bring about the holiday appearance.

Fourth Stanza: Testimony

Old Dunder will be the one who will offer testimony regarding the reason for the season, "a baby boy born in a cow shed." He will mention how Jesus "gave away" all material possessions in order to demonstrate for humanity the vital importance of giving.

The cowboy colloquial of having the baby Christ "born in a cow shed" adds to the American West flavor of the ballad. The "born in a manger" theme easily translates to cowboy lingo for the cow poke who retains his love and respect for American culture, influenced by Jesus the Christ.

Each aspect of the American culture can be expressed through unique images and language common to each group that has become integral to the melting pot of languages and cultures while remaining purely American.

Fifth Stanza: Christmas Morning

Finally, Christmas day has arrived. Even well before the light of day, the ranch hands are up and wide awake, getting ready to start blazing up fires for cooking.

But before they commence their chores for the big celebration, they go outside, "to gaze on the Star of the East"; this annual ritual is the heart of their cowboy prayer that they gratefully offer as part of their celebration.

While the partying and feasting remain a central part of the poem’s theme, the birth of their Christian faith also figures strongly in that celebration as they ready the ranch and their hearts and minds for keeping their faith strong and vibrant.

Sixth Stanza: Time to Cook

Finally, the cooking begins. They whip up plum cobbler using the plums they had stored up back in summer. The revelers bake wild turkey and roast backstrap deer; they also bake sourdough bread, as they continue to pass around "the brown jug of cheer."

Seventh Stanza: A Big Dinner

They all enjoy their big dinner, and then they all gather around the beautiful Christmas tree to exchange their gifts.

Each partier receives at least three presents for which they are very grateful and easily express their gratitude to one another. They hug and shake hands to show gratitude for their bounty.

After the gift exchange, they are now ready for music and dancing. Old Dunder and Fair roll back the rugs for the dancing. Fred starts his fiddle-playing, while Ty warms up his guitar.

Eighth Stanza: Music and Fun Times

The music is rollicking and lively, and everyone has a great time. It seems the robust celebration takes the chill off the bitter winter weather. The dancing continues way past dawn; every one sings and dances until morning.

After the partiers finally say good-night and drift off to sleep, the music and singing will keep on playing in their dreams.

The theme of Christmas cheer and the beautiful faith each cowboy experiences will play out as the images from this ballad continue to influence their work and play in the coming year.

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

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