December 23, 2018

2018-12-23 A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols

A New Service at All Saints’ ~ A Century-Old Tradition in England

Perhaps the most famous carol service, is the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College in Cambridge, UK.  This service takes place at 3:00pm (UK Time) on Christmas Eve and is broadcast live on BBC Radio (and all over the world).

The service was created and performed in 1880 by Edward Benson, who was the then newly appointed Bishop of Truro (in Cornwall in the UK).  Bishop Benson later became the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The Service took place at 10:00pm on Christmas Eve in a large wooden building that was being used as a temporary Cathedral as the main Truro Cathedral was being rebuilt.

The idea traveled around the UK and became quite a popular service to hold on Christmas Eve.  However, it was made very famous by the choir from King’s College, Cambridge, which was reckoned to be the best Church choir in the world at the time.

The Service was first performed at King’s College in 1918 as a way of the college celebrating the end of the First World War.  The new college Dean, Eric Milner-White, who had been an Army Chaplain in WWI, wanted a different and more positive way of celebrating Christmas for the choir and people in the college.  In 1919 he changed the opening hymn/carol to be ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and set the main order and structure of the lessons/readings as it still is today.

A service of Nine Lessons and Carols has nine Bible readings (or lessons), that tell the Christmas story, with one or two carols between each lesson.  Now, famously, the opening verse of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ (Sing along to Once in Royal David’s City!) is sung by a single boy chorister (or treble) but in the early years of the service at King’s College it was sung by the whole choir.  Several choristers train to perform the solo, but the boy who will sing it is only told a couple of minutes before the service starts, so he can’t get too nervous!

The BBC first broadcast the service, on the radio, in 1928 and apart from 1930 it’s been broadcast every year since—even during WWII.  In the early 1930s, the BBC started broadcasting the service overseas.  It was first broadcasted live in the USA in 1979 where it’s presented by Michael Barone.

And you can experience it here at All Saints’ on Central THIS Sunday, December 23, at 4pm with our newest choir: The Choristers of All Saints’ Church and the Schola Cantorum.