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As people around the world begin to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season and the birth of Jesus, the Saffordville United Methodist Church recognized the start of Advent with a unique tradition that has lasted more than a century.

Saffordville UMC’s annual “Hanging of the Greens” — when church members stay after service to decorate the church for Christmas — took place Sunday morning, leaving the church decked in green garland, glittery golds and shining whites and silvers.

It’s a tradition that was started not long after the original church was founded, and still located in Saffordville.

“Nobody can remember when this started, but we know when this church was down in Saffordville from 1902 — 1952, we’re sure that they were doing it then,” Gwen Eidman, who helps organize the event each year, said. “When the church moved, the tradition just moved along with it. So, it’s been going on since 1902, and this is just how we do it.”

Eidman said when she joined the church in 1968, the Hanging of the Greens involved little more than decorating the church and enjoying a meal together. Over the years, it has grown to include more activities to include the church’s younger congregants. Then, it expanded again with an area to make care packages for the church’s college students during finals week.

“The kids needed something to do, so we started cookie decorating,” she said. “Then it was, ‘Oh, it’s finals week. We should do something for our college kids.’ It just kept mushrooming. It’s just whoever is able to be here to do it.”

What has not changed over the years is the sense of fellowship and community. As more people have joined the church over the years, Eidman said they have been able to find a spot that they enjoy helping with each year, whether it’s decorating the Christmas tree or helping to hang garland around the sanctuary.

“Everyone kind of finds their niche on their own,” she said.

Braydon Schroer, who grew up in the church, said he remembers helping out as a kid with the cookie decorating. Now, he helps set up the wooden nativity against hay bales outside of the church.

“When I was really little we’d make the cookies in the back and then we’d frost them, but then as you got older you would kind of progress to different jobs like helping decorate the tree,” he said. “When you got old enough, you got to move outside to do the nativity scene. It’s kind of like a progression you go through. Everybody helps with cooking and everything. We have all of this great food back there.”

Schroer said it was important for him to come back to the church.

“It’s just, this is my family,” he said. “Coming back here is a great experience and it’s great fun. It’s just nice to see everybody.”

Meghan Eidman, now a sophomore at Kansas State University, said coming back to Saffordville UMC was like coming home.

“Coming back is just like jumping back in,” she said. “It’s really nice and it’s a really welcoming feeling to come back. To be able to catch up with everybody is a really great feeling.”

Meghan Eidman was helping with cookie decorating Sunday, though she said her role had changed from when she was younger. Now, it was more of a supervisory role.

“It’s more like making sure they have enough frosting and making sure they’re being sparing with the sprinkles,” she said. “Now you’re kind of, like, running the show. Now you’re in this adult position and you have to oversee everything.”

Although there’s always a great sense of community at the church, Meghan said it always feels a bit more amplified during the Christmas season.

“There’s always a big family atmosphere here, but it definitely grows this time of year,” she said, adding that living in a rural community can make it difficult during the summer months when people are busy working to come together. “This time of year with Christmas coming up and people wanting to celebrate more, it definitely grows stronger. It’s always kind of there, but we always get more people around the church this time of year.”

With everyone working together, both inside and outside, it only took about 45 minutes to finish decorating the church after Sunday service. Afterward, it was time for Pastor Marilyn Christmore to say a prayer and for the congregation to come together to enjoy a meal — though some of the children may have already filled up on cookies by then.

Christmore, who came to the church six years ago, said she was glad to keep such an important tradition going.

“With everyone participating, all the way from the youth to the elders, it’s very special,” she said. “It is a special community that comes together to support each other and worship together.”

This article originally ran on emporiagazette.com.

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