Christmas Memories at Ebenezer
Marcia Harralson and Laura Miltenberger
From the early days at Ebenezer there has been a Christmas program that was always centered around the, "Beloved Little Church". Marcia Harralson related the following excerpt on December 10, 2019 at 4:50 PM in her home:
Now let's move on to this century. The EHS director Laura Miltenberger has also related her memories of her youth during the Christmas Program at her Beloved Little Church:
I grew up here in the early 1970’s. There isn’t a time I can recall without attending, or participating in the church's Christmas Program in my youth. It seemed to me, there was planning and work centered all year long in preparation for this long-standing tradition. From the tree selection to the “Hanging of the Greens”, the singing of Christmas carols, and the Nativity play it was meticulously planned.
I recall the men discussing where this years “perfect” cedar tree for the church was located, or who was going to have a “good one” for next year. The tree had to be big enough to reach the ceiling, I’m guessing about a 9-foot tall tree. It was brought in through the double doors at the back of the church and set-up by the front door, near the alter. We would usually gather on a Saturday morning, to decorate the tree and have our program practice. It was the time that really signified the kick-off of the holiday season for me. The Christmas season was beginning!
The Sunday School Classes provided the apples & oranges that were passed out. But everyone chipped in by contributing “however many pennies old you were for your birthday”, throughout the year, on your birthday. There was a collection basket that used to sit in one of the stained glass windows at the front of the church for birthday money collections, that money was used for the Christmas fruit.
The night of the program was a big event! The parking lot was full of cars. It was always a packed house; you wanted to get there early to get a seat. Not just church members and their families, but everyone from the community were welcome and would attend.
The Christmas story was read as any and all available children (and even some adults) were ushered up the aisle in variously crafted costumes to play out the pageant of Christ’s birth. Yes, even I got to be an angel once…I have no doubts everyone got to be ONCE!
I’m sure the production was opened with music and closed with music. I never recall what the exact order of the program was, but I do remember when my mom, Karen Nichols would stand up where the choir pews are to sing “O Holy Night”. I can still hear it, like it was yesterday. I have many fond memories of hearing my mom sing. She always had such a beautiful voice.
Last song in the program was ALWAYS “Jingle Bells”. We had to sing that if we wanted Santa Claus to come! And we had to sing it LOUD, just to be sure he could hear us! Next thing you know here he would come, up the basement steps, handing out candy canes and shaking hands with all the church folk! He would sit down in a chair at the front, and we could sit on his lap to tell him what we were wishing for, for Christmas or a photo op for our family.
Someone would start handing out the apples & oranges and bags of Christmas candy with peanut clusters or old-fashioned cream drops, candied orange slices & peppermint candy canes. This was the occasion many took to handout Christmas cards to friends & neighbors or share their loving gifts of homemade goodies. My grandparents, Hugh & Helen Stewart, would spend the week before making candy such as peanut brittle, fudge or Chex party mix to give out. I remember them using Folgers coffee cans and plastic butter (margarine) tubs my Nana would wrap up in Christmas wrapping paper to conceal the packaging. Then Scotch tape a “To & From” label on top!
There was always so much joy & laughter & warmth on these evenings. I never remember if it was cold or snowy outside, just that there were always so many happy and joyful people. I always wondered why it wasn’t like that every time.
We hope these memories remind you of joyful times you may have had at Ebenezer too, or on other occasions with your family and loved ones. We want to wish all of the Community of Ebenezer, a Very Merry Christmas and a Very Happy and Prosperous New Year. Thank you all for your tremendous support of your Ebenezer Historical Society.
My grandmother and grandfather related to me that my great-grandfather, Charles Wallis would take his son Burnie Wallis to the Church to light the fires prior to the pageantry that was the Christmas Program. The fires would be lit regardless of how much snow, ice or inclement weather was happening. The tree was delivered to the church in the early years in a horse drawn wagon. Once this was done the tree would be brought in through the East side entrance.
A cedar tree was cut from the land of the community and was many times a blueberry or gold tip. As the men brought the tree inside the church the children, who were watching wide-eyed would bet and giggle on whether it would fit inside the small chapel. It would be set inside an old tractor rim to hold it upright, and if it was too big it was trimmed at the bottom or at the top until it fit. The tree had no lights but was illuminated by the oil lights that were lit inside the church.
The children of the community would make popcorn strings, paper chains, snowflakes and circles to decorate the tree. Of particular excitement that was happening during the tree decoration was when the children were given icicles to throw as high as they could onto the tree. The children...thought the tree was so beautiful when they were done. The tree was finally complete when the men placed the star on the tree, and most times would have to stand on the last step of the ladder to put the star at the top. In Mrs. (Lucy) Anderson's Sunday school class the children would take presents to put under the tree, and after they drew names the presents would be handed out.
There has always been a Traditional Christmas Program in Ebenezer since the late 1800's and has always been centered around the church and the community. This tradition needs to be continued for the people of Ebenezer and the Church. A nativity scene was always created. Adults would be dressed up as Joseph and Mary. Baby Jesus was a real baby, provided by one of the families, and was wrapped in swaddling cloth and lay on a bed of hay in a homemade cradle. The teenagers were the shepherds and wise men; the little children were dressed up, all the angels wearing their little white sheets. The procession entered from the East end of the Church and would proceed to the stage to have the nativity scene. This was done this way every year and Christmas carols would reverberate throughout the church. Mrs. Thelma Gateley would play the piano during this time and when she couldn't play anymore Marcia's mom (Mary Louise Dillard) took over.
When the nativity scene was complete then it was time to exchange gifts. Marcia's mom related to her when she was a young girl that most of the time the only gifts given out were apples and oranges, one for each person, as that was all there was. The apples and oranges were provided by the Church and came from local donations to the church from the community. The preacher was given gifts of food for him and his family.
Finally when everyone sang Jingle Bells at the top of their lungs there would be a loud, HO! HO! HO! from the basement, and as the excitement rose, Santa Clause would enter. All the Children and adults would gather around while Santa would hold every child and listen to what they wanted for Christmas. Then Santa gave every child a candy cane. On a lighter note even the adults would sit on Santa's knee and tell them what they wanted for Christmas. The adults called him, "Grandpa Santa Clause". Santa has also been a tradition in the Christmas Program for as long as Marcia remembers.
Marcia's grandfather would always get her grandmother a huge candy cane with her name engraved on it and it was set under the Christmas tree. This was a tradition that continued every Christmas for as long as they lived.