Apr 1, 2024 - Culture

Family has spent Easter camping at Brackenridge Park for five generations

A family at a campsite around a picnic table, with a tent in the corner and a kid running past it. A dog is on a leash in the middle.

Family members settling in for the long Easter weekend on Thursday. Photo: Megan Stringer/Axios

The signs of an Easter weekend camping at Brackenridge Park are abundant for the Cerna family: the smell of charcoal from the grill, the sound of chopping up onion for pico de gallo, tents going up and the radio turned on.

Why it matters: Camping at Brackenridge Park on Easter weekend is puro San Antonio. It helps the city hold onto its small-town feel and keeps family members connected.

  • For the Cernas, that tradition goes back five generations.

The big picture: The Cernas are part of the legacy's origins. Agustin Cerna's great-grandmother began Easter trips to Brackenridge in the 1950s when he was a kid, though no one remembers exactly what year. Now at age 77, he wouldn't miss it.

  • It began as a daytime picnic at the park — probably as a way to keep the mess from the cascaron-cracking out of the family's yard, Agustin tells Axios.

This year, Brackenridge Park is celebrating its 125th anniversary — and the Cernas have been there for Easter for about 70 years.

  • On Thursday night, when the city suspended the typical 11pm closing time to allow camping as it does every year, Josh Cerna prepared chicken fajitas and sausage for dinner. He thought ahead to the slow-cooked brisket he'd make for Easter Sunday.
  • As a child, Josh watched his father take charge to make the weekend special for everyone. Now he wants to set the same example for his children, he tells Axios.

Although the tents didn't go up until Thursday, the Cernas began staking out their spot a week in advance on Palm Sunday. They casually hung around the picnic tables, staying into the night with pizza and chili cheese dogs.

  • For decades they've occupied a larger area on the north end of the park off Hildebrand Avenue, where they have more space.
  • The Cerna name is even carved into the concrete under the picnic tables. They bring their own port-a-potties.
A bright green bowl on a blue tablecloth holds bright red tomatoes and green peppers. A woman uses a knife to dice onion in the corner.
Preparing pico de gallo at the campsite in Brackenridge Park. Photo: Megan Stringer/Axios

Zoom in: The weekend kicked off with a Friday fish fry, a shrimp pozole and a crawfish boil, Josh says. On Saturday they had a big brunch, but Sunday's meal was the main event. And of course, someone brought Big Red.

  • The kids played volleyball, rode their bikes and chased each other around the open field.
  • The egg toss is a classic Cerna family game that's become a heated competition between the South and West Side members of the family.

By the numbers: On Easter Sunday, more than 100 people gathered at the family's combined campsites. Friends trickled in and out to join them.

  • The youngest family member is 6, and the oldest is 77.
  • It's not hard to get everyone together, Josh says — they never have to force the kids to come because they always want to.
The whole Cerna family on Easter in front of tents at the park.
The Cerna family gathering on Easter Sunday this year. Photo: Courtesy of Demetrius Tapia

On Sunday afternoon, Josh ended the gathering with a prayer circle for the family members who aren't with them anymore.

  • When people die, traditions often fizzle out with them.
  • But Josh is hopeful that his children will keep the campsite going, even as they grow up and move on with their lives.
  • "We'll do it for as long as we're here," Josh says. "As parents we have to show them the value of the tradition."
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