BRADENTON -- A time-honored tradition at Christmas has become a popular hands-on approach for members of the Bradenton First Church of Nazarene.
Carols are sung, presents are given out, Santa makes an appearance and, most importantly, roughly 200 members of the congregation participated Sunday in the Hanging of the Greens in honor of Advent.
Decorating the church with garlands and Christmas trees marks the start of Advent when Christians prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ. At Bradenton First Church of Nazarene, audience participation is now a big part of a service motivated by teaching.
"The idea is to provide one corporate experience as a teaching experience about
what the decorations mean, what Christmas means, to make it a meaningful kickoff to the holiday experience," Pastor Tony Miller said.
The church enlarged the role of decorating during the service a couple years ago.
"We have done some form of the hanging of the greens for as long as most of us can remember -- decades," Miller said. "This is the second year that we have done it to this degree."
Attendance at the special service has skyrocketed, he said.
"A few years ago, only a handful of people were here for this," Miller said.
Those in attendance said they enjoyed the participatory celebration.
"It was great. I have been coming here for 16 years," Christy Dixon said.
Dixon prefers the interactive hanging of the greens where volunteers actually decorate the church as part of the service.
"It gets everyone involved in the decorating of the church, which is what the hanging of the greens service is suppose to be about," she said.
The adult choir and children's choir performed several songs. Poinsettias were placed at the altar in honor those no longer present for Christmas. Videos on the meaning of various Christmas traditions were played throughout.
Young and old participated Sunday, including Heath Woodward's children.
"They always love singing," Woodward said.
Watching all the children was his favorite part, he said.
Near the end of the service, the first candle of Advent was lit.
Advent has four weeks, symbolized by the four candles on a Christmas wreath, three purple and one pink. Each week, one purple candle is lit in honor of hope, love and joy. On the final Sunday before Christmas the pink candle is lit in honor of peace.
For Barbara Stewart the service really brings the meaning back into the Christmas tradition.
"It was great, we enjoyed it," Stewart said. "It puts more the emphasis on the true meaning of Christmas, which is the birth of Jesus."
Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.to