Montreal has been white for almost two weeks. The shops and boutiques smell Christmas in the air. While the snow blows along Président-Kennedy Avenue, the second story of the red-roofed Church of St John the Evangelist is anything but cold. Underneath the bright-red ceiling, volunteers are bustling like elves to get everything ready for the reception on December 25th.
Photo credit | Mattera Joly
For ten years now, the enormous gothic church in the Quartier des spectacles has welcomed the poor, solitary and homeless of the area for an annual holiday dinner. “We try to do something for the people that sleep on the streets of the neighbourhood” explains parishioner Drew Graham-Smith as he comes out of the kitchen. Since the economic crisis set in, the famous feast has welcomed more and more families who don’t have the means to lay out their own holiday spread.
From the Gesù Church on Bleury, the Bon-Pasteur Chapel at the corner of Sherbrooke and De Bullion, as well as at St James and St John the Evangelist, the four churches of the Quartier des spectacles project the real spirit of the holidays.It’s a welcome refuge from big-box stores and stress. “Here, it’s not a question of purchases and presents, but of the traditional spirit of Christmas” explains Drew Graham-Smith. Pierre Bélanger, superior of the Gesù Jesuit community, notes sadly that people have grown distant from religion. But he holds that Quebec people know that “Christmas doesn’t have a true meaning beyond its connection with its spiritual roots.”
At the Gesù, the Jesuits promise a Christmas of tradition and openness. In addition to a special December 24th mass, the Gesù auditorium will present a night of Jewish and Muslim comedy on December 23rd. For this religious community, Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate all beliefs. Past the huge frescoes, on the right of the nave, is a next-generation Nativity scene sculpted by Quebec artist Stella Pace out of recycled materials. Pierre Bélanger believes that it’s a remarkable combination. “It takes a traditional element, the Nativity scene, through which the artist expresses herself and addresses the demands of contemporary life. In this case, it’s the environment.”
All the neighbourhood churches put art to good use during the holiday season. Even though the Bon-Pasteur Chapel will be closed from December 20th to January 26th, it will present a Christmas soprano concert on December 19th, and jazz and classical artists will return for the rest of the winter after the break. You can drop by St James Church almost every day during its open-door hours, to fill yourself with the holiday spirit or attend Christmas services.
At St John the Evangelist (the Red Roof church), in addition to the December 12th Bach concert, there will be the traditional midnight service, the supper for the poor, and various scheduled performances. Don’t miss traverso player Joanna Marsden on January 16th, and the January 23rd concert with the organist Federico Andreoni.
During these cold days of December, everyone gathers in the Quartier des spectacles: preachers and parishioners, the secular and the saintly. Come in out of the snow for a moment to renew your holiday spirit, under the four church spires of the neighbourhood.
By Maïka Sondarjée