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Members of St. Cecilia Parish in Meta pitched in on the First Weekend of Advent to keep a community tradition going for yet another year.
They gathered on a hill overlooking the highway through town to put up the larger-than-life figures of the Holy Family, shepherds, kings, camels and sheep.
Then came the lights and music.
“As a kid, I can remember going through Meta. I always thought it was cool,” said St. Cecilia parishioner Darin Even, who’s been in charge of the Citizen’s Civic League’s Christmas display for the past decade.
“They started it in 1957,” he stated. “The Civic League was looking for something to do for Christmas. Someone saw a big Nativity scene in Branson, and they patterned this one after it.”
Since then, Meta’s Nativity display has spent each Christmas season atop the hill across the valley facing St. Cecilia Church.
“It’s a beautiful thing to walk out of church and see it there,” said Mr. Even.
Members of the parish’s Catholic Youth Organization cut out and painted new plywood figures about 20 years ago, after most of the originals had deteriorated.
This year, two new shepherds were created to take the place of two very old ones that had deteriorated and were not part of the CYO project.
“It’s really a community thing,” Mr. Even said. “The Civic League is an organization in town. People in this community started it as a community organization.”
The organization is made up of people of various religions and backgrounds. It’s goal is to make Meta a bigger and better place to live and work.
St. Cecilia parishioner Don Wansing was in charge of the Nativity display for many years.
Happy memories helped Mr. Even accept the baton when Mr. Wansing was ready to hand it off.
“It’s a neat tradition,” said Mr. Even. “A group of us gets together to put it up. We put the date in the bulletin and on social media. Everyone’s schedules are so hectic this time of year. But without fail it goes up every year no matter what.”
The Citizen’s Civic League maintains the display largely through volunteer labor and donations.
Mr. Even, who has been the league’s president for several years, gets the process started each fall by taking mowing equipment up the lonely road to the Nativity’s secluded location to clear some of the brush. He cuts the rest down with a mower.
“We have a core group of volunteers that are very dedicated to making sure that this tradition will live on,” he said. “Hopefully someday, a new group will take our places with the same love and dedication for it that we have.”
The figures and Star of Bethlehem are stored through the year in a new building that sits directly behind the stable.
“We have started making some improvements and have more in the works, hopefully sooner than later,” said Mr. Even.
A page from a parish history book notes that more than 400 people gathered on Dec. 8, 1957, to witness the first lighting ceremony.
Col. E.I. Hockaday of the Missouri State Highway Patrol pressed the switch, and the scene flooded with light.
Father A.J. Hoegen, who was pastor of St. Cecilia Parish, led the prayer.
Many years ago, before Mr. Even started taking care of the display, he overheard a conversation in a Jefferson City grocery store.
“They were talking about their holiday plans,” he said. “They planned on driving to Meta to see the Nativity display.”
Since then, he’s heard many people make the same comments.
“People from all over drive to see it every year and sit and listen to the Christmas music playing from the site,” he said.
It’s also is a favorite on social media, especially for people formerly from the area who can’t make the trip to see it in person.
“They may have grown up and moved away, but they still bring their kids and grandkids back each year just to see it,” he said.
The lights and music are on timers. The music plays from about 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The lights are on from about 5 p.m. until 1 a.m.
“As a community, Meta is very proud of it,” he said.