The red and white candy canes dangling from the Christmas tree in the South Columbia Baptist Church dining room are more than sticky, tasty treats. To members of the congregation, they are traditional reminders of Jesus Christ.
According to legend, the candy cane represents a shepherd's crook, symbol of Jesus as the good shepherd, said Iris White, a member of the congregation, which is sponsoring a two-day event ending today on the meaning of Christmas and its symbols.
Called "Christmas Spoken Here," the Guilford Road church's open house continues from 7 p.m. to 9:30 tonight. In addition to learning about Christmas folklore, visitors also can get advice on holiday decorating and ways to establish their own Christmas traditions.
The church came up with the idea of a big seasonal event after becoming concerned about the sparse attendance at open houses held in its members' homes. This year, members decided to hold the event at the church and distributed 1,000 tickets throughout the community.
The intent was to focus on the Christian folk traditions of the holiday, instead of the commercial trappings that are strangling Christmas, said the church's pastor, the Rev. W. Stephen Neel.
"We hope folks get . . .a deeper appreciation about the meaning of Christmas," he said. "Two thousand years ago, a little boy was born in Bethlehem. God entered into history as a human being. That's what we celebrate."
The history lesson begins when visitors enter the church's driveway and are greeted by carolers. Up the hill is a live nativity scene, depicting the birth of Jesus -- a tradition that dates back to St. Francis of Assisi, Mrs. White said.
Each room in the open house has a different theme, including the "Christmas Around the World Room."
In the foyer, 21 angels hang above six Christmas trees. Altogether, there are 51 Christmas trees in the church building, including a Scandinavian-style tree hung with apples and gingerbread men and a tree decorated with ornaments depicting Biblical scenes.
And in an arts and crafts room, children and adults can learn to make Christmas trees from coat hangers and to fashion angels from paper plates.
Church members hope the colorful displays will make a lasting impression on visitors and cause them to reflect on the religious meanings behind Christmas traditions.
"So many things have become secularized that we don't even think anymore why we put angels on trees," Mrs. White said. "Angels were the first evangelists. They were the messengers."
But there's one tradition that's absent from South Columbia's open house, despite its religious basis: the jolly man in the red suit, known as Santa Claus and Saint Nick, short for Saint Nicholas.
"We figured they'd [children] see Santa at the malls," Mrs. White said. "We're trying to show them the real reason for Christmas."