Christmas at the Grotto returns Nov. 25

For the first time in more than 80 years, Cullman’s Ave Maria Grotto was lit at night and dressed in Christmas lights in 2019. (Cullman Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Ave Maria Grotto is bringing back its Christmas tradition for another year. This year, Christmas at the Grotto will expand to 17 dates: Nov. 25-26 and Dec. 1-3, 9-11, 15-17, 19-23 and 26, and will be open from 5-9 p.m. each day.  

Christmas at the Grotto began when Roger Steele took over as director in 2019.  

“I got here in November, and we did it for only two or three nights the first year in December in 2019, and we expanded it every year,” he said. 

When the event began, Steele said, “We saw the growth in Christmas events all around Cullman. Of course, the vast majority are secular-type displays, so we wanted to add a spiritual element to the Christmas season as far as lighted events that people can experience. We’re trying to draw people’s attention to the real reason for the season. Even for those who don’t believe, just draw them to a more spiritual sense about what’s most important in life.” 

The 125 miniature sculptures made by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a monk at St. Bernard Abbey for almost 70 years, will be beautifully lit for guests to enjoy their charm further highlighted by Christmas lights.  

“The park is close to 85 years old. Since the park was open, it was never lit at night, so we wanted to show off Brother Joseph’s work in a brand-new perspective,” Steele said. 

It takes about eight weeks to put the lights up leading up to the event. “It’s a year of planning, but implementing that plan takes about two months,” said Steele. A few volunteers will help on some days, but most of the work is done by Steele and his wife, Karen. 

Christmas at the Grotto admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $7 for military/veterans/first responders, $8 for teens (14-17), $7 for children (5-12) and free for children younger than 4.  

Special dates (Dec. 9, 10, 16, 17 and 23) will feature horse-drawn wagon rides for $10, kids’ Christmas train rides for $5 and live music. This year the wagon rides will run along a lit path in the woods. On Dec. 23, Santa Claus will be at the Grotto to take pictures with kids.  

For more information about the Ave Maria Grotto, visit   

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