BRADENTON — With candles glowing in one hand and a program containing Christmas carols in the other, about 130 people gathered at Manatee Village Historical Park for a Christmas Eve service Thursday to reflect on the birth of Jesus.
Manatee United Methodist Church Rev. Neal Long said the service often attracts people outside of the church’s normal congregation for holiday services whether it’s someone away from home or others who are attracted to the historic village site surrounded by large oak trees with Spanish moss hanging down, brick walkways and whitewashed quaint buildings.
Emilio Ladines, 37, who is visiting from Ecuador, attended the service with his family.
Ladines said he always celebrates the holiday as a part of his Christian faith.
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“We celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. I enjoyed the Christmas carols,” he said after services ended. “I thank God for sending Jesus, our savior.”
The church building, which is located at 1404 Manatee Ave. E., dates back to 1887 and used to be home to Manatee United Methodist Church. In recent years the congregation returns for a candlelight service during the holidays, Long said.
“This became our traditional Christmas service,” he said standing outside the one-room structure, which seats about 130 people, just before services began.
The service was marked with carols, scripture readings from the Bible about the birth of Jesus and a meditation that had attendees light artificial candles before singing Silent Night.
“It’s just a reminder of the Bible story that God loved the world and sent his son. It’s a message of remembrance and hope,” he said. “We’re just glad people take the time to come here and folks remember what Christmas is about.”
As the service ended, the candles were turned off.
Long reminded attendees that Jesus is the light of the world, he said citing scripture from the Bible.
“You are also light of the world. As you go outside and walk through the lights, remember Christ will light your path as you see through him,” he said referencing the luminaries dotting the path to the parking lot.
Kelly Riforgiat, 49, of Bradenton, who is a member of the Methodist church, looks forward to this service every year.
“It’s a real treat every year to have this service at this church. It takes you back to a simpler time,” she said wearing a green sweater and clutching a stack of Christmas cards. “I love the story. I love hearing it over and over again. I never get tired of hearing it.”