Collinwood prepares for Luminaries, shares recipes for Christmas

Photo by Ann Cipperly An Opelika Christmas tradition, the 53rd annual Luminaries will be held in the Collinwood neighborhood Friday, Dec. 18 from 5-9 p.m. The event features scenes along the path with scriptures on signs and a live nativity. Pictured are Ruth Torbert, left, chairman of the event, and Martha Hill, who has been a resident since the first Luminaries in 1967.

By Ann Cipperly

Along sloping streets in the Collinwood neighborhood, hundreds of flickering candles will glow for the 53rd annual Luminaries Friday, Dec. 18 from 5-9 p.m. or on the rain date Saturday, Dec. 19. The tradition, featuring scenes along the path and a live nativity, has remained popular over the years and was featured in Southern Living magazine. The neighborhood and its gift of the Luminaries have an interesting history woven with community leaders over the years.

A fancy gate that opened and closed automatically for carriages once led the way to the Collins’ plantation, nestled on the edge of 160 wooded acres, “Collins’ woods,” where school teachers took children for picnics, Boy Scouts camped out and Shriners held barbecues.

Helen Collins had vivid memories of moving to the plantation as a child when her father, Robert Henry Collins, purchased the house. Their previous home was located in the country on West Point Highway where her great-great grandparents from Edgefield, South Carolina, had settled.

Miss Collins remembered when they moved that many items were left behind, including a spinning wheel and an old trunk with a Confederate uniform and many letters. The abandoned house later burned, and she regretted not speaking up as a child to take the trunk.

A sofa and chair that were moved to the house had been hauled on mules from South Carolina as a wedding present by her great-great grandfather. Some furniture was from her aunt’s home at Highland Hall in the historic district in Columbus, Georgia.

The Collins’ house was built in the style of a New England country home by a New Englander named Du Val. While no one knows the exact date, it is believed to have been constructed around 1881. A unique feature of the house is a coffin door that lifted up on the side of the house, which was the custom for New England homes at that time.

Miss Collins remembered that the Shepherd family lived in the house before them. They would come back to the house to reminisce and tell stories. Helen had wonderful memories of growing up at the plantation.

When Helen was 13 years old, she recalled going to visit her cousin Sally Ferrell whose garden was considered among the best in the South. It is now the Hills and Dales Estate, a garden and house museum in LaGrange, Georgia.

When Collins’ woods were just country, the closest house was the McCall house, located across from the Church of Christ on Tenth Street. School teachers who boarded at the Collins’ home would leave their good shoes at the McCall house. It was a long walk to the school, Palmers’ Hall, the present site of City Hall.

Helen’s father was a farmer and also ran a trucking business. He married Maud Sanders, and they had four children. One of those children was T.S. (Frosty) Collins. When the father retired, he spent a great deal of time working in the grounds around the house.

Miss Helen taught school and was a librarian at the junior high school.

While some people would not want to see their family homeland turned into a subdivision, Helen was pleased and named the neighborhood “Collinwood” when it began in 1950. She would say, “I think we have some of the loveliest people in town living here.”

In the beginning, parties were held in homes and everyone in the neighborhood would be invited. This tradition and friendliness led to the neighborhood offering the Luminaries as a gift to the town.

Except for the Collins’ house and the tree where Boy Scouts carved their names, there are no other signs of Collins’ woods. Homemade gas lanterns and water tanks are long gone, and the fish pond is covered in ivy.

Miss Helen would still be proud of the neighborhood today, as the residents prepare to once again offer the tradition of Luminaries to the community.


While the entire neighborhood participates in the Luminaries, the first effort included only a few houses on East Collinwood Circle. In 1966, Mrs. J.R. Fuller of the Twilight Garden Club suggested the idea to the club after seeing luminaries in Europe.

The following year, with 15 families in the neighborhood at the time, the Collinwood residents undertook the project. Aileen Samford and Lucy Salter were instrumental in organizing the event. Mrs. Salter received information on the details of luminaries from friends in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

During the first few years, the residents of East Collinwood used an assortment of bags and candles. After West Collinwood Circle and Collinwood Street were added to the Luminaries, the event became more organized. Paper bags and candles were ordered and distributed to be consistent throughout the pathway.

“The neighborhood has always seen the Luminaries as its gift to the community,” said Martha Hill, a Collinwood resident who has participated from the beginning when the first candles were lit in 1967.

“It makes Christmas special for children,” she added. Martha, whose children grew up looking forward to the annual event, served as chairman several times over the years and feels the event keeps the neighborhood close.

In 1984, Martha and I visited Southern Living magazine with information and pictures of the Luminaries. Southern Living sent writers and photographers to cover the event and neighborhood party, which was held annually at Jane and Jacob Walker’s home for many years. The following year, the event and recipes from the party were featured in the magazine’s Christmas issue.

The preparation in setting up the candles involves the entire family. Yards are raked and neatly groomed. Children in the neighborhood assist older residents.

A few days before the event, sand is delivered to several locations around the neighborhood. Three to four inches of sand is placed into a plastic bag, then into a paper bag, with the top folded down two inches to add rigidity.

The day of the Luminaries, over 1,200 bags are placed 20 inches from the curb and spaced evenly for uniformity.

Along the candlelit drive, homes are decorated for Christmas, signs display Bible verses, and scenes throughout the neighborhood tell the Christmas story. Living scenes feature shepherds, wisemen and angels, and at the end of the path, a live nativity scene resonates the message of Christmas.

Since 1982, Rick Lane of First United Methodist Church has worked with youth to provide live scenes and the nativity. Live animals are included in the nativity scene.

The programs passed out at the entrance have an insert with a QR code to scan with your phone camera, and it will play Luke 2:1-20 while driving through the candle-lit path.

Ruth Torbert is chairman of this year’s event. This is her third year in a row as chairman, and she has served four other times in the past decade.

City sanitation and power employees assist in getting ready for the event by cleaning streets and turning streetlights off.

The Collinwood tour is also supported by the Opelika Mayor and City Council, Public Works Department of Opelika (ESG), Opelika Power Services, Opelika Police Department and Boy Scout Troop 858.

The Luminaries begin at 5 p.m. at the corner of Tenth Street and Collinwood Street. Motorists turn off headlights as they slowly drive one way through the neighborhood and end at McLure.

Collinwood residents invite all east Alabama residents to come and enjoy the Luminaries, as they light the path on the “journey to the manger.” The tour is free.

Ann Cipperly can be reached at

Amish Sugar Cookies

Ruth Torbert

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup butter, room temperature

1 cup vegetable oil

Add 2 beaten eggs and mix well.

Sift together:

4 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

Gradually add dry ingredients to liquid.

1 tsp. vanilla

1 8 oz. pkg. Heath Milk Chocolate English Toffee Bits

Chopped pecans, optional

Drop on ungreased cookie sheet, press with fork, sprinkle with granulated or colored sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. These cookies freeze well! Makes about 10 dozen.

Peanut Butter Treats

Martha Hill

About 40 Reese’s Peanut Butter cups miniatures

1/2 cup (1stick) butter or margarine, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup Reese’s Creamy Peanut Butter (or peanut butter of choice)

1 egg

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1½ cups all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

Heat oven to 375 F. Remove wrappers from candies. Line small muffin cups (1-3/4 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups, if desired.

Beat butter, granulated sugar, peanut butter, egg and vanilla until fluffy in a large bowl. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until well blended.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls; place one in each paper lined or ungreased muffin cup. Do not flatten.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes until puffed and lightly browned; remove from oven. Immediately press a peanut butter cup in the center of each cookie. Cool completely in the muffin pan. Makes 3 ½ dozen

Grits for Christmas morning

Edith Walker

We always serve this with Capps sausage, fruit and usually a Christmas pastry or poppy seed bread on the side.

1 1/2 cups grits

3 cups water

3 cups milk

1/2 cup butter cut in small pieces

3 tsp. Lawry’s seasoned salt

8 oz. Velveeta, cut in small pieces

8 oz. sharp cheese, grated

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup chopped onions sauteed until lightly brown

2 Tbsp. chopped pimentos

Follow directions on package for cooked grits using water and milk. Do not add salt.

Add remaining ingredients slowly, stirring to blend after each ingredient. Pour into buttered casserole.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 1 hour. May need to lightly cover with foil for last 20 minutes to prevent overbrowning.

Mary’s Cranberry Relish and Molded Cranberry Salad

Deborah Williams

Cranberry Relish

1 lb. fresh cranberries

1 orange (Choose one without a thick rind. Leave rind on, and cut into about 4 pieces.)

1 apple (Core apple, leaving skin on, and cut into about 4 pieces.)

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

To make the relish: Using a food processor, coarsely (and separately) chop the cranberries (emptying into a bowl), the apple (adding to the bowl) and the orange (adding to the bowl). Stir in the sugar and pecans and refrigerate overnight. This makes a sweet/mildly tart and crunchy side dish.

Molded Cranberry Salad

To make a molded salad, add ingredients below to the Cranberry Relish ingredients:

1 (3.25 oz. pkg.) lemon-flavored gelatin

1 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin (mixed into 3 Tbsp. cold water)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup heavy whipped cream

Make the relish and refrigerate overnight.

In 1 cup boiling water, dissolve the lemon-flavored gelatin, and unflavored gelatin in cold water. Add gelatin mixture to relish ingredients and pour into mold. Refrigerate until set.

Mix mayonnaise and cream together and garnish, if desired.

Red Velvet Cookies

Nell Samford

1 box (18.25 oz.) red velvet cake mix

2 eggs

½ cup vegetable oil

2 Tbsp. water

1 cup white chocolate chips

16 oz. container cream cheese frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, oil and water. Mix well. Stir in white chocolate chips. Drop by spoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Cool slightly and move to wire racks.

When cooled, pipe cream frosting in center of each cookie.

Christmas Crack

Annslee Hillyer

Feel free to add 1/2 cup of chopped nuts or coconut flakes on top once you have poured the melted chocolate.

28 to 35 saltine crackers (about one sleeve, enough to line your pan)

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups (10 to 12 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate (darker chocolate could become brittle and separate from cracker layer)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Completely cover a 10 x 15-inch jelly roll pan with nonstick aluminum foil or regular foil spray lightly with baking spray. Place saltine crackers in a single layer.

To make caramel sauce, place brown sugar, butter and salt in a medium-sized saucepan. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until butter melts. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for another 3 to 5 minutes, just until the mixture comes to a boil and starts to darken. Remove from heat; stir in the vanilla.

Pour hot brown sugar mixture over saltine crackers, spreading to evenly coat.

Bake for 5 minutes. The caramel will be hot and bubbly.

To melt chocolate, microwave in 30-second intervals at full power, stirring between each cook time, until the chocolate has melted.

Let crackers cool for 1 minute until caramel is no longer bubbling. Then pour melted chocolate over the crackers, using a spatula to spread evenly over the top.

Let crackers cool to room temperature, then place in refrigerator overnight.

Crackers will form a single sheet once cool. Remove from pan and gently peel the foil away, being careful not to tear the foil. Cut into snack-sized pieces using a chef’s knife (you can use your hands, too, but I find it easier with a knife).

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a week.

Grandmother Ruth’s 1924 Pumpkin Cake

Deborah B. Lindsey

This was my maternal grandmother’s recipe handed down from her grandmother. My parents were David and Jo Marion Bentley at 1126 E. Collinwood Circle.

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

4 eggs

3 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

3 top cinnamon

1 cup pecans

2 cups sugar

2 cups pumpkin

2 tsp. baking powder

2 top baking soda

1 top allspice

1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Brush a Bundt pan with butter, then dust with flour, tapping out excess.

Mix vegetable oil, sugar, eggs and pumpkin; set aside.

Sift together flour with baking powder and baking soda, plus spices and salt.

Combine nuts and raisins and stir into flour mixture. Then stir all of that into first batch. Stir well.

Pour in Bundt cake pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack 15 minutes.

Roasted Pecans

Colleen Alsobrook

3 cups pecans

1/2 cup butter, melted

Salt to taste

Spread pecans out in roasting pan. Pour melted butter evenly over pecans. Salt with shaker.

Bake at 275 degrees (this is key). Stir every 15 minutes so that all pecans are coated and turned. Cook for 1 hour.

Re-salt pecans once you have placed them on paper towels to cool and drain excess butter.

Quick Fruit Drop Scones

Peggy Tipton

1 pkg. (7.5 oz.) Bisquick Buttermilk Biscuit Mix (or any brand)

½ tsp. backing powder

1/8 cup sugar

1/8 cup pecan pieces

¼ cup Sun Maid Fruit Bits (Piggly Wiggly always has these)

½ cup whipping cream (do not substitute)

¼ cup water

Mix dry ingredients together. Add fruit and nuts, and stir well making sure fruit and nuts are coated with dry ingredients.

Add liquids ¼ cup at a time stirring well after each addition. Dough should be thick.

Drop by heaping Tbsp. onto baking sheet sprayed with Pam. Bake in a pre-heated 400-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until very golden brown. While scones are still warm top each one with one tsp. of the following glaze.


¼ cup powdered sugar

3 tsp. whipped cream      

1 tsp. water

1/8 tsp. vanilla flavoring

Mix in small bowl until smooth and spoon over scones. Makes 8.

Christmas Gems

Robin Governo

These are time consuming to make but have always disappeared quickly at every Christmas party.

½ cup butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

½ cup sweetened condensed milk

½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 cup raisins, currents or dried cranberries

Combine all ingredients except nuts and raisins and beat well with an electric mixer. Then stir in nuts and raisins.


Can use purchased rolled crusts.

1½ cups flour

½ tsp. salt

½ cup shortening (lard)

¼ cup ice water

Mix flour and salt together. Work in shortening with fork. Moisten dough with cold water until just moistened. Pat gently into a ball, wrap in waxed paper and chill. Then cut in half. Roll out each half on a floured board.

Use a cup to cut crust circles. Put crusts in a well-greased and floured mini muffins tins. Fill pastry cups with raisin and nut mixture.

Bake at 400 for 10 minutes or 300 for 20 minutes or until pie dough turns golden.

After removing the gems from the pan, set them on a cooling rack.

Let the pan cool, wash it, re-grease and flour, and then roll out more dough for another batch.

Broccoli Casserole in Cream Cheese Sauce

Kristie Barlow

Two bunches broccoli

4 Tbsp. butter or margarine, divided

2 slices bread (cut up into cubes)

3 Tbsp. flour

1½ cups milk (add 1 Tbsp., if needed)

¼ cup cream cheese

¾ cup cheddar cheese, grated

Cook broccoli in water until tender crisp. Drain and put in an oblong 9×13-inch pan.

Microwave 2 Tbsp. butter or margarine in bowl. When melted, place bread (cut up into cubes) into bowl and mix. Set aside in a small bowl and use the microwave bowl again.

Microwave 2 Tbsp. butter or margarine in bowl. When melted, place flour in bowl. Mix well. Pour in milk. Mix well. Add ¼ tsp. salt and dash of pepper. Microwave and stir until thickened (if too thick add 1 Tbsp. of milk).

Remove from heat and add cream cheese. Pour sauce over the broccoli. Top with 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese and then sprinkle the homemade croutons (bread cubes).

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until croutons are golden brown.

Jane Walker’s Oyster Casserole

Edith Walker

Not everyone is a fan of oysters in our family, but the ones who are always make sure this is on the menu! I got this recipe from Jane when she made it for Christmas Day after Jake and I married.

1-2 pints of oysters (I prefer smaller oysters)

6 Tbsp. half and half

6 Tbsp. oyster “liquor”

1 ½ to 2 cups Ritz cracker crumbs

1/2 cup melted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

3 pieces of bacon fried till crisp and crumbled in fine pieces

Place half of the oysters in a buttered casserole. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Drizzle half the oyster liquor and cream over oysters. Stir butter into cracker crumbs.

Sprinkle half cracker crumbs over oysters. Repeat with another layer of oysters, salt and pepper, liquid, and cracker crumbs. Sprinkle bacon pieces on top.

Bake in preheated 325-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes until crumbs are golden brown.


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