More HouseThe LaBarbera Christmas HouseIt’s hard to believe that the holidays are here!  This is the time of the year when one would expect to get expert advice from a fitness specialist, regarding how to avoid gaining extra weight during this season of bountiful buffets.  I could use this space to remind you to take the parking space that is furthest away from the mall, so that you could burn a few extra calories by walking.  I could tell you to eat smaller portions, lighten up your recipes, go for the veggie tray instead of the sausage balls, and to make time for fitness.  I could tell you to layer clothing when exercising outdoors, to keep your body warm and many other healthy tips.  But, instead, I have decided to share a very special treat with you.  Its calorie free and my purpose, and hope, in sharing it with you, is to warm your heart during this holiday season.


The holidays are nostalgic.  The sights, sounds, and smells of this special time bring back memories from the past and evoke feelings of sentiment.  I am very blessed to have memories steeped in southern tradition.  The South has its own culture, particularly when it comes to the celebration of the season.


My father was a Baptist minister and the pastor of a little, country church.  High attendance Sunday resulted in numbers varying between 75-100 people.  Mostly, we averaged approximately 50 who attended on a regular basis.  Sunday School attendance was reported, and duly recorded on a board, posted at the front of the church. After Sunday school, most of the people stayed for preachin’, or as we call it today, the worship service.


Preachin’ began with anyone who wanted to, singing in the choir.  Children and adults of all ages would go to the front of the church and file into the choir pews.  Everyone would sing their hearts out.  Louder was considered to be better.  The pianist would make the piano dance; she would be playing it with such enthusiasm.  After the singing was over, the choir would exit to the pews for the sermon.


Christmas, in our country church, was a special time of the year.  The church was decorated with candles, greenery, and red bows.  A Christmas tree was part of that tradition.  It was usually a cedar tree that someone had cut down and carried in from a farm.  The bad side was turned to the corner, so that the better side showed.  The decorations were handmade by the children’s Sunday School classes.  Paper plates and cups, with crayon pictures drawn on them, were the norm, along with garlands of popcorn or tinsel.  The children also hung the ornaments, which meant that only the lower third of the tree was decorated!  Above that, all you saw were lights to the top of the tree, which held a star, or an angel, that had been fashioned from cardboard and aluminum foil.  There were no bows at the tops of the trees back then.


The Christmas Program was on the Sunday night before Christmas.  The children’s choir would wear choir robes.  The homemade robes resembled tree skirts.  The robe was slipped over the head and a red bow was pinned or snapped to the center of the robe. All the little girls got to wear red lipstick for the program.  That was the most fun part! Since louder was better, we belted out the old carols like there was no tomorrow.  At the end of the program, Santa would make his grand entrance with candy and/or presents for everyone.  What an exciting time for all.


Another memorable tradition in our church was the infamous treat bag!  The adults assembled the treat bags on the Saturday before Christmas, so that on Sunday morning they would be ready to pass out to all the children.  Back in the day there weren’t any fancy bags, just plain, brown, paper bags.  Each bag contained the same things every year, one apple, one orange, a candy cane, chocolate creme drops, mixed nuts in the shell, and gumdrops.  The bags were stuffed and the tops rolled neatly down.  Imagine the condition of the chocolate drops and the candy canes by the time the oranges and apples had rolled around on them!


All the children in the community knew when it was Treat Bag Sunday and it was our highest attendance day of the year, besides Easter.  Treat bags were given out during the break between Sunday school and preachin’, with the instructions to put them away until after church was over.  Yeah right!!!  What child is going to put away a treat bag without dipping into it, and what adult in their right mind gives out a treat bag with those expectations anyway?  What were they thinking?


Daddy’s sermon on Treat Bag Sunday was accompanied with various sound effects…paper bags rattling, apples rolling across the floor, and the sound of slurping of chocolate that was dripping down chins.



Well, it was treat bag Sunday and Billy Wilson was sitting on the front pew.  This particular year, the Christmas tree was so big that its boughs rested on that front pew.  Billy took a seat as close to the tree as he could get.  Having been shushed several times already, he really was trying to be a good boy, but the treat bag was calling his name!  Billy had a loose tooth.  Gumdrops probably aren’t the best candy selection for someone suffering from a loose tooth! 

Daddy had finished preaching and was conducting the invitation.  The organist was playing quietly in the background as Daddy invited people to the altar for repentance or a closer walk with the Lord.  As he stood with his arms outstretched, and during the most solemn moment of the service, a very loud scream erupted from the front row.  It was Billy Wilson!  He was jumping around as if he were on fire.  “Oh, my toof!  Oh, my toof!” he was screaming.  Everyone’s eyes were fixed on Billy.  Hanging from his loose tooth was a big, bright, green gumdrop!  This killed the spirit of the moment, to say the least.


Christmas past, present, or future will always hold fond memories for me, because the foundation for them was built many years ago, by my parents.  I was taught the importance of sharing the gift of love and hospitality with others, not only at the holiday season, but throughout the year.


I believe that our mental health improves when we recall beautiful memories during times of distress and trouble. If sharing my story with you brought a smile to your face or ignited a spark of nostalgia for you, then I will have accomplished my purpose.


I wish for you a season that is merry, bright, and full of peace, love, joy, and treat bags!

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