Ushering in the Advent Season - SMCS-Style

It had all the trappings of an idyllic winter scene --- with a double blue twist!

Christmas in the Courtyard is an annual event at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) that began in 2001, was on hiatus for four years, then returned in 2014. It is held on the first Thursday of Advent.

The 2019 version featured an evening prayer service (Vespers), a smattering of snow and winter chill for effect, carolling, a live band, traditional festive fare and more than 400 members of the SMCS community in attendance.

SMCS community gathers in the chapel to celebrate the Advent season with a Mass.

“I think the most significant thing with this event is celebrating our Catholic faith at the start of the liturgical season and the opportunity for fellowship with one another --- both veteran families and new ones coming in,” says Fr. Andrew Leung, CSB, President of SMCS, who participated in his fourth Christmas in the Courtyard. “It was lovely to see the catching-up that parents had with one another and with the teachers and administrators.”

James McKinnon, Principal of St. Michael’s College School, attended his first such event.

“The spirit of hope and joy was evident in the participation --- a true spirit of a community growing together with anticipation and hope,” he says, adding that it was particularly striking to witness, “the commitment of the people (parents, students, staff, and community) to gather together as one, sharing gifts, talents, and joy however they are able.”

Christmas in the Courtyard at SMCS celebrates the start of the Advent season

The event was introduced to St. Michael’s College School by John Walsh ’73, Head of Community and Learning Partnerships and former teacher at SMCS. Walsh serves as the event’s chief organizer.

“I am always impressed with the how many families attend. How many former students and their families come back. How the numerous groups in the school contribute to its success,” says Walsh, who has attended all 14 Christmas in the Courtyard events. 

He adds, “Many people tell me that of all that we do, this is their favourite event. Considering the number of things that we do, I would say that's a huge compliment!”

Community gathers for Christmas in the Courtyard at SMCS to celebrate the start of the Advent season.

Here is some of what it takes to bring Christmas in the Courtyard to life:

Preparations for the winter event begin in the middle of summer.

“We start assessing the needs for the event starting in July,” says Erika Neu Sargent, SMCS gardener and member of the facilities team, who helped facilitate the majestic greenery for the event --- for a third year.

SMCS Christmas in the Courtyard lighting of the Christmas Tree in celebration of the Advent Season.

“The tremendous feat of delivering a 24-foot tree to descend ‘effortlessly’ into a closed courtyard is challenging. Sourcing a tree, crew, crane, and transport safely and efficiently is not easy to pull off with 1,500 student and staff ‘onlookers,’" she says. "The courtyard is a very exposed ‘goldfish bowl’. All the classrooms facing inward watch the tree delivery. It was very heartwarming when we finally had the tree raised. Cheers poured out of the windows for the efforts!”


9,000 Lights
1,100 lb. Greenery
200 Pine cones
120 litres Hot chocolate
110 Poinsettias
100 Silver balls
100 litres Chilli
100 litres Apple cider
24-foot Fraser Fir
45 Musicians (Sr. Jazz Band & Concert Band)
30 Carollers
8 Community service 'volunteers'
3 White Spruce trees

“This comes at a relevant time in our year and history,” adds McKinnon. “As we live Advent and prepare for renewal and the celebration of Christ coming to join in our humanity, the need to bring hope and joy to our world, and anticipation of a brighter future together in faith, character, and service is a beautiful theme now and always.”