Advent ABC: Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

nativity set figurine
Photo by Vinícius Vieira Fotografia on

We have a Christmas Eve custom in our house,   daughter and I. Come mid afternoon,   we sit down at the kitchen table to top and tail  the brussel sprouts, all to the accompaniment of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast live from King’s College Cambridge. As soon as we  we hear the voice of  a lone chorister singing the opening verse of Once in Royal David’s City, we just  know that Christmas is almost here

First held in 1918 and broadcast from 1928, the service is broadcast both  on national radio and all over the world.   A similar service is pre – recorded and broadcast on TV, also on Christmas Eve. Many churches use Nine Lessons as the inspiration for their own carols services, but the Real Thing of course, is the Cambridge event, and people queue from the early hours on December 24th in hopes of being in the congregation on the Big Day. It’s always a superb team effort; watch here to hear some of the people involved talk about how everything comes together.

Though I’ve only recently found out that the origins of the Festival goes  right back to 1880 when the Right  Revd Edward White  Benson, Bishop of Truro, became concerned at the amount of drunkeness and debauchery on  his patch  over Christmastime and decided to devise something more enlightening to lure the unfaithful  out of the pub and into the church.

So- next time you feel tempted to grumble about the antics of sozzled revelers staggering home in the wee small hours, remember, they were the inspiration for this  great Christmas tradition!

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