It was that time of year again. Adults tried not to drool, teenagers’ eyes twinkled with excitement, and visions of M & Ms danced in the eyes of toddlers everywhere. Okay, maybe not everywhere, but certainly within stake boundaries.

It was time for our annual Chocolate Challenge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Chocolate Santa Claus, and he’ll be perched on Table Number Seven, where in a strangely sacrilegious moment, youngsters will take him apart, limb by limb.

Now wait. Before you wonder if the Psych Ward has been expanded into the Psych Stake, let me explain. On a given, and certainly magical, evening, our old stake cultural hall would fill with donated chocolate confections of all kinds, from chocolate fudge cookies to a wedding cake covered with truffles. The mere walking into that room could cost you 150 calories.

And then, as if in a dream come true, church members would pay $5 a family, and load up a paper plate with any and all of the brownies and goodies they wanted. (And you thought you had to wait years for the blessings of church activity!) All proceeds went, in those days, to a youth excursion. Today you can’t have fundraisers like that-you’d simply have to give the chocolate away for free. Sounds even better, doesn’t it?

Granted, a few of us could easily support a Chocoholics Anonymous group. But in lieu of that, it was mighty therapeutic to look around and realize you’re not the only person who holds dear the hope that in heaven, the trees bear chocolate fruit.

Bob and I share a certain passion for chocolate, and even took the kids to Hershey, Pennsylvania once, to witness chocolate’s creation, enjoy samples, see Amish country, enjoy samples, inhale the cocoa-scented air, and enjoy samples. I pictured greeters who would flag you down as you drive in, then swing a silver tray in front of you, laden with chocolate delicacies. Melted chocolate would flow in the rivers, the town would positively reek of the chocolate in their big factory, all the pens would write in brown ink, and surely all the hotels would leave two-pound boxes of candy on your pillow each night.

We took the turnpike and headed straight for chocolate mecca. “Let’s roll our windows down, everybody,” I sang. “Let’s see if we can smell the chocolate yet.” We all cranked down the windows of our rented car and inhaled deeply.

Big mistake. Think about it: You can’t make milk chocolate without milk, right? And you can’t get lots of fresh milk without lots of fresh cows, so there we were in dairy country, inhaling and gagging and rolling up our windows as fast as we could.

We tried again in the city when we got closer. Not a whiff of chocolate anywhere. Oh, sure a few streetlights were shaped like Hershey kisses, but this was a little town with a factory in the middle, and had you painted over the Hershey lettering, it could just as easily have been a cement plant.

Fine, we said. We’ll take the tour. We just knew they’d be shoveling goodies into all the tourists and letting them dip their fingers into creamy pots of chocolate goo. Wrong. Any samples you want, you have to buy, no different than the candy bars you can get at 7-11 without leaving your hometown.

The kids were elated, nonetheless. To them, candy was candy. But Bob and I wore noticeable pouts as we slumped into our car and drove away. “This was not better than the Chocolate Challenge,” I mumbled. He agreed.

Nope, if you wanted a chocolate overdose, you had to find an LDS Stake Center.

And then, in a sweeping announcement met by gasps of disbelief, our Stake President cancelled the Chocolate Challenge! Something about gluttony, I can’t really remember.

And I guess there is something to the description, “sinfully delicious” that means you might enjoy it now but you are gonna pay big time later.

And so the Chocolate Challenge went the way of the Relief Society bazaars. We’ll just have to wait until we get to heaven, where calories are automatically removed from everything delicious. That is church doctrine, isn’t it?