Special to The Hays Daily News

NATOMA -- A "heart full of welcome" ushered in Christmas cheer for the season of Advent on Sunday in Natoma. As the sun dipped into the west horizon, townfolk gathered around the newly planted Christmas tree for the annual lighting, Nativity reading of Jesus' birth and prayer for the holiday season.

The public library was a cozy place for hot apple cider, cookies and peppermint candy, while children shared their wishes with Mr. and Mrs. Claus. The FFA offered free rides in a buckboard wagon drawn by two Clydesdale horses.

Amidst the serene landscape of Paradise Valley, the clippity-clop of horses' hooves brought to mind a bygone era when pioneers named the town Natoma, meaning "new born," in 1888. In the Christmas season of hope, this small rural community continues to be a new birth for people arriving from across the nation and from around the globe.

As shadows fell across the town, a community-wide soup supper brought everyone into the festive community center where volunteers served vegetable and chili soups with freshly baked cinnamon rolls. Names of elementary children placed in a jar were drawn for giant Santa socks filled with toys and games. Throughout the evening Natoma elementary, junior high and high school students played Christmas carols, while young and old joined in song. Several adult musicians joined them for traditional and contemporary music.

The evening ended with a jazz rendition of "Angels We Have Heard On High" played on piano, with guitar, drums and trumpets.

The event was organized by the Tis the Season Committee, including the ministerial alliance, Natoma FFA and Natoma USD 399 music department.

All donations from the event will underwrite the Angel Tree for needy families. Children's wish lists can be chosen from the Angel Tree for Christmas gifting with items delivered to Angel Accounting in Natoma by Dec. 14.

For more information on the event, or for donations to the Angel Tree project, contact Pastor Ben MacConnell, Paradise Valley Church of Faith at (785) 885-4736; Pastor Alison Williams, United Methodist Church at (785) 885-8034; Pastor Michael Schmidt, Peach Lutheran Church at (785) 885-4718; or Jeremy Long, Natoma High School at (785) 885-4849.