Ave Maria Grotto lighting up ‘Christmas at the Grotto’ starting Dec. 3

Christmas at the Grotto lighting gets a test run Thanksgiving night. The event opens to the public Dec. 3, 2020. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Ave Maria Grotto at St. Bernard Abbey will host a second edition of Christmas at the Grotto this December, building on the success of last year’s inaugural event which featured evening tours through the park, much of which had been decorated with tens of thousands of Christmas lights. This year’s event promises to be even bigger, with a day of special activities, and with more lights covering more of the park, while maintaining a tasteful balance between “winter wonderland” and the devotional vision of Bro. Joseph, the Benedictine monk who made the Grotto and most of the park’s works of art with his own hands.

Grotto Manager Roger Steele gave The Tribune a sneak peek this week and talked about what visitors can anticipate.

Said Steele, “We’ve added several more days and starting Dec. 3 this year; I don’t think we started until the 18th or 19th of December last year, only ran three nights. This next month, this time, we’re going to run it, have the park open 13 times. So it’ll be basically, starting the 3rd, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday throughout December.”

Steele said that he plans to open on a few other days as well, including Wednesday, Dec. 23 and possibly some weekdays between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

“The whole park is going to be open, now,” he added. Last year, only a limited portion of the tour area was lit, excluding the southern end, but the lights will now cover the entire area, opening all of Bro. Joseph’s creation for visitors to experience in this special way.

Crafts and choirs Dec. 19

A big new feature will be a special event Dec. 19 featuring a craft fair and live music at the Grotto. Steele said that he hopes to get 20 to 30 craft vendors to attend, and he is working on that part of the program with Joyce Nix, who coordinates St. Bernard Prep School’s Bloomin’ Festival and Bernard Blues and BBQ events.

Steele said that music for the special event will be provided by choirs, including those of:

  • St. Symeon Orthodox Church, specializing in traditional chant
  • St. Bernard Abbey, with monks presenting Gregorian chant


Steele added that he is talking to an African-American church about sending its choir, but he has not finalized an agreement.

The goal

The goal of Christmas at the Grotto, according to Steele, is “to have an elegant spiritual atmosphere” that highlights the artistry and devotional aspects of the Grotto while providing a fun experience.

Said Steele, “That’s kind of the issue that you have here. I have some people that don’t want as many lights, that want to highlight Bro. Joe’s work at night; others want it to be Christmas wonderland. So I’m trying to hit kind of a happy medium. I don’t like the colored or flashing lights, but kind of keep it the warm, non-LED lights, that kind of an elegant feel.”


At a glance

Christmas at the Grotto 

Ave Maria Grotto, 1600 St. Bernard Drive SE, Cullman

Dec. 3,4,5 – 4-9 p.m.
Dec. 10,11,12 – 4-9 p.m.
Dec. 17,18 – 4-9 p.m.
Dec. 19 – noon-9 p.m.
Dec. 26 – 4-9 p.m.
Dec. 30,31 – 4-9 p.m.

Adults – $6
Students – $3
Children 3 and younger – free

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/avemariagrotto/.

Copyright 2020 Humble Roots, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


W.C. Mann