Christmas in a Monastery

If you’ve ever wondered how a community of Catholic Sisters celebrates Christmas, I know how you feel. I used to wonder too!

My community of monastic Benedictine Sisters has its own traditions which I am happy to share. (I’m not sure how apostolic communities celebrate, or if they even gather together on Christmas Day. They don’t live in community as monastics do. In fact, they often live far away from the Motherhouse. As a monastic community, we live together and celebrate holy days together.)

Here at St. Mary Monastery we observe Advent as long as we can. We do not start decorating the monastery until the 18th of December. Then, look out! Trees twinkle in every living group as well as the library and dining room. Christmas knick-knacks fill tables and shelves. Some living groups host decorating parties. My group enjoyed cookies, coffee, hot chocolate and tea for our tree decorating party. (I made 4 different kinds of Christmas cookies!)

Not everything is aglow by the 18th, though. The community room tree is not decorated until December 23. We all gather as our prioress, Sister Sandra, reads from Isaiah. One of my favorite passages is Isaiah 9: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

Sister Sandra then blesses the tree and the lights of the tree are turned on. Beautiful! Each of us then places a Christmas ornament on the tree so that it has something from everyone in the community on it.

The chapel remains undecorated until December 24. This is a big all-day project. We put up our Christmas trees and hang red banners. We set up the manger scene, place poinsettias everywhere.

We begin our Christmas celebration with an hour of silence before the vigil service that evening. The vigil is very much like our Liturgy of the Hours, with psalms and chanting and singing. Sister Sandra reads the gospel of Jesus’ birth and gives a reflection for Christmas. We then have one person – this year it was Sister Andrea – place the baby Jesus in the manger. We sing Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful and depart.

This year, a few living groups served cookies and we enjoyed each other’s company.

Christmas Day is great joy! We have mass and brunch. No one’s in a hurry. No one’s working. Just visiting, relaxing, smiling. At about 3:15 we gather in the community room to sing Christmas carols and watch skits from those who have prepared something. Sister Mary Jean was Susie Snowflake and we enjoyed her performance.

After that, we find out who our Advent angel has been. This is a Sister who has been praying for us during Advent. Then we receive a gift from the community. This year money was donated to different charities in town.

At 5:00 we go up and pray Vespers. After that we enjoy a lovely Christmas dinner. Everything was just perfect.

It is great to spend Christmas with the community – my new family. And it’s great to be able to share this time with my mom and dad, sisters and nephews as well. Tomorrow, I’ll be going up to Dubuque to do just that.

Christmas lasts till Epiphany for us, so we have lots of merry-making ahead yet. Hope your Christmas season is joyful and filled with abundant blessings. If you’d like to explore the blessings of this life, please email me at I’ll be happy to answer your questions!!!!

2 thoughts on “Christmas in a Monastery

  1. Toni Wilken, Oblate

    Sister Stefanie, your article about Christmas at the monastery is a beautiful timeline and a model for families. Thank you for sharing!


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