One of my Christmas memories is the goody bag the church always gave out after their Christmas program. Handed to each guest, it was an unexpected and exciting little brown paper bag. We’ve stopped handing these out at my church and while fruit is readily available to me and I eat way too much candy, I found that I missed the little bag this Sunday. And it got me to thinking about where that tradition may have originated.
Fruit at Christmas time is a deep tradition for our family, and I think for most folks on the mountain. My Grandpa, who had little input to the regular grocery shopping, would always make a point as the holiday season approached to go buy a big box of apples and another of oranges. There would be peppermint candy and chocolate drops in the house at this time as well. Now, it’s not hard to theorize that this man, whose childhood held few treats and for whom poverty had been a constant companion, reveled in the relative wealth of having a whole box of fruit both to enjoy and to share.
I imagine the church’s bags had very similar origins. Since our picturesque mountain home won’t grow anything citrus and even apples have to be harvested and safely stored pretty early in the fall, fruit at Christmastime has to come from far away and would be rather a luxury in horse-drawn days.
Transportation has changed so much in the past seventy-five years, and now trucks arrive at grocery stores all over the country filled with fresh fruits and vegetables from all over the world. We can have anything from bananas or mangos to strawberries and apples anytime we want. And we know that transportation greatly affects the cost of everything. So imagine how valuable an exotic fruit like pineapple would have been a few years ago.
Of course the church’s goody bag was generally filled with good ole American goodies but even that wouldn’t be easy to come by in the remote mountain communities. How hard is it to get a load of oranges to a store that is served only by mule team? How often would poor children in those areas see foods that were harvested hundreds of miles away when they might live their whole lives and never travel more than fifty miles from home?
Top off those juicy fruits with a few pieces of peppermint and maybe even a bit of chocolate and you’ve got a treat that makes a lasting memory. I don’t know who made the decision not to hand out goody bags at church anymore, and maybe they won’t be missed by many – but I may have to make one for myself, or better yet revive the tradition by handing out my own bags next year.