Wednesday, December 23, 2015

It’s Beginning to Look (a little) Like Christmas

It's been unseasonably warm in Chicago this winter, with temperatures well into the 50's and not a drop of snow in sight. Even though it doesn't feel like Christmas outside, inside the monastery it seems that every square inch of wall and every horizontal surface has been meticulously decorated, which more than makes up for the lack of snow. 

Advent is my favorite season of the year. During the duration of my college career, though, I was pretty much too busy with work and exams and extracurricular activities to pay much attention to advent, which seems to slip by so much faster now than when I was a kid! That's one of the reasons I feel lucky to be living in a monastery this year-- for once I have the time and energy to fully experience the advent season. 

In preparation for advent, I got to help S. Rita hang the advent wreath by carefully suspending it from fishing wire from the chapel ceiling. For this job I had fun rummaging around in the attic above the altar.

Me in a window above the altar, carefully raising the advent wreath

As one of the taller inhabitants of the monastery, I also got the task of decorating the top branches of the community Christmas tree, which was later blessed by S. Judith Murphy at the annual Christmas tree blessing ceremony. For this occasion, we sang Oh Christmas Tree together, and I got my first taste of eggnog (I was skeptical at first, but ended up really liking it).

S. Judith Murphy, the prioress, blessing the Christmas tree

When one of my ESL students found out I wanted to join in the Christmas spirit but didn't have any decorations of my own, she brought me some from her own home. So now my room is just as Christmas-y as the rest of the house!

My little window, bedazzled with Christmas lights (a gift from my student Olga)

A tiny creche for my windowsill, also a gift from Olga

Yesterday was the annual employee Christmas party, and I spent most of the day running all over the place-- wrapping gifts, serving punch, and distributing presents from under the tree. The elaborate spread of food also included caramel chocolate shortbread bites, baked by myself and S. Belinda (they received excellent reviews, in case you were wondering).

Wrapping Christmas presents with Santa's helpers (S. Johnette and S. Mary)

Guests enjoying treats at the employee Christmas party

Me serving punch at the employee Christmas party in my festive apron

And it’s not just the monastery I’ve been so busy helping to prepare for Christmas.. I decided to prepare myself for Christmas with an extra special treat: a matinee ticket to Handel’s Messiah, my favorite musical piece of all time, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Needless to say, it was a superb performance. When the entire hall rose to their feet for the Hallelujah Chorus, it actually brought tears to my eyes. 

Me at Orchestra Hall, waiting for Handel's Messiah to begin

Handel's Messiah memorabilia

A view of Orchestra Hall before the performance

Now that I am as fully in the Christmas spirit as possible, all that's left is to celebrate the mass of Christmas night and Christmas day with the sisters here  (I will be singing in the schola) and then I'll be on my way back to Minnesota and my family! I can hardly wait.