How the sisters plan to celebrate Christmas in the convent


Ron Collie

Sister Elizabeth, Sister Celeste, Sister Katherine Jean and Sister Mary (from left to right) pose in front of the tree in their community room. Sister Celeste’s favorite ornaments were made out of straw by a sister in Germany.

Flintridge Sacred Heart’s Dominican sisters are spending Christmas solely in the convent this year due to the coronavirus. Although the nine sisters who live in the convent are not able to leave to spend Christmas with their families as they normally would, they will still celebrate the holiday season with each other by decorating and keeping their Christmas traditions alive. 

“Decorating is always a good time, but I’m here to tell you, to get nine women to agree on any kind of decorating is a miracle,” Sister Celeste Botello, the school’s principal, said.  

Sister Katherine Jean Cowan loves how cheerful and heartwarming the holiday decorations are, even during such a scary and unknown time like the current day. 

“We live in a place that is beautifully decorated inside and out.” Sister Katherine said. “Lights now encircle our trees and wind their strands up and down the wall about the administration building. The lounge has a lovely tree and various decorations. We decorate our community room with a tree and candles and various displays of gold and green and red. Just before Christmas, we decorate our chapel with lights, garlands and a tree.” 

The community room is a space in the convent where the sisters can relax on couches or watch TV. Every year, they decide to decorate their tree on a day that all nine sisters are available. While decorating, they usually listen to festive music and enjoy Christmas-themed snacks and drinks, including eggnog, hot chocolate and cookies. 

“We decide on a day that everyone is available to decorate the tree with music playing and something to drink, either hot chocolate, apple cider or some wine,” Sister Celeste said. 

In addition to celebrating with decorations, each sister has a prayer partner. They pick names at the beginning of the year and pray for them individually throughout the course of the year. Then, around Christmas time, they each get each other a small gift. 

Christmas morning itself will start like any other morning in the convent with prayer. Then, the sisters will attend mass that will be streamed on TV, followed by a delicious brunch. If this were a normal year, they would invite the residential staff to eat and celebrate with them. In past years, the sisters have hosted a Christmas dinner for other sisters in smaller local convents, for community friends and for some family members. 

At  the end of Christmas day, the sisters will open gifts around the tree and play a game featuring white elephant gifts. 

“Everyone struggles to divest herself of the ugliest gift. It’s always a good time,” Sister Annunciata Auletta said.