Nestled between mountain peaks deep in the forest, the Queen of Peace Monastery just north of Squamish is an ideal place for prayer and contemplation.
In the winter, the snow-capped mountains add to the beauty and mystery of the holiday season.
Christmas is a time of celebration and reflection at the monastery. The Dominican nuns spend much of the season carrying out their regular rituals of song and prayer, but as they prepare for the season of Christ’s birth, the mood and tone of their devotion changes. They also use different instruments, including the kora, the sitar, and drums.
“We highlight the tones, the melodies for the song we sing,” says Tanzanian nun, Sister Marie Tersidis Tarimo. “They are more joyful and light.”
During Advent, a season covering the weeks leading up to Christmas, the nuns cut back on some of their activities and slow their pace. In the three days leading up to Christmas, the Triduum, they hold “special silent moments.”
Tarimo compares this to a mother waiting for her child to be born.
“We try to focus, be mindful of the mysteries that are unfolding,” she says. “Those moments approaching the delivery of the baby, you recollect yourself, you gather the things you need. That’s why we spend that week, for instance, practicing the hymns or songs we are going to sing, so we have them really well-prepared.”
The nuns also spend time cleaning and preparing for special Christmas activities and services.
“It is a time of joyful anticipation, of taking care of one another, thinking of what would the holy family do in preparing for this child,” she says. “We want that moment to be the highlight of our life, so there is a lot of preparation, a lot of caring for one another, of waiting together.”
But the real highlight for the nuns is preparing the Christmas tree.
“We have fun going as a community, up into the mountains to find a beautiful tree. Sometimes it’s covered with snow,” says Tarimo.
Once in the mountains, they choose three trees: one for the community room, one for the chapel, and one for the public reception area. They also prepare two nativity scenes with a manger holding a figure of the baby Jesus, and decorate the monastery with poinsettias.
“Decorating is a big thing for us,” Tarimo says.
The monastery, established by the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church in 2012, was the first built west of Quebec in Canada. Currently home to 12 sisters and candidates aged 24 to 79, this monastery is a contemplative order where nuns spend much of their time in quiet prayer and reflection.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t want the public join them.
“We’re here to witness to the reality of God, and if we are not inviting people into the space of prayer and silence then our witness is defeated,” Tarimo says. “It’s not something that is private for us alone. It is open.”
As with many other Catholic churches, there is a special midnight mass into the early hours of Christmas Day, as well as a mass Christmas morning.
Like their regular prayer times, all masses are open to the public.
The nuns also bake Christmas stolen bread for those who come to one of the two services.
Guests are welcome to visit the church for prayer throughout the day from 6 a.m. to following the 8 p.m. prayer. Masses are normally held at 8:30 a.m. or 11 a.m., depending on when a priest is able to visit.