December 24, 2008

Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols

One of the most important parts of my preparation for Christmas is listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve morning as I am preparing for the festivites later on in the day. This is a quite contemplation of what Christmas is all about, and comes from the spectacular King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England.
The BBC's weekly radio newsletter puts it beautifully: As the winter evening shadows lengthen, a solo chorister sings the first verse of “Once in Royal David's City” in the expectant stillness of King's College Chapel, Cambridge. The experience we have here is shared with millions around the world... The solo chorister is chosen minutes before the service begins so that he won't have time to get nervous. Every time I hear the opening notes of "Once in Royal David's City", I just burst into tears. There's just something so moving about this.
The Festival was something that my father and I both loved deeply and I was lucky enough to spend a summer afternoon at King's College Chapel with him and my mother. I have an abiding image in my mind of my father and his sister as children in England listening to the service on their old radio while their father prepared their Christmas dinner.

There's also a lovely line in the service about remembering "all those who rejoice with us, but on another shore and in a greater light", which was a reference to those lost during the Second World War, although I used to think it referred to my grandfather in England.

The Nine Lessons tradition began in 1928 and has only not happened once, in 1930. The service continued during WWII even though the magnificent stained glass windows of the chapel had been removed for safekeeping.

You can listen to this service on BBC World Service or on public radio stations in the US. It is usually repeated on Christmas Day.

Reprinted from Pigtown Design, December 2007

10 comments:

  1. Meg...I shall search for this on public radio. I wish you and yours the Peace, Joy, and Love this Christmas. ♥Rosemary

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  2. Thanks for the reminder - I just turned it on! Merry Christmas to you!

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  3. this was a very beautiful post!

    ps happy christmas, meg! i love the new header! apropos and dazzling!

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  4. Loyola College (the soon-to-be Loyola University of Baltimore) used to do a yearly Festival of Lessons and Carols in mid-December. I wonder if they still do it? Lovely service. I used to be part of it a very long time ago.

    As I said over at Pigtown Pigout, Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year!

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  5. I always listen. Nice to see the photos and I did not realize the soloist was picked at the last minute. I always wondered how they managed to stay calm and sing. Thanks for solving that mystery!

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  6. Ms. Wis... doesn't that kill you! Can you imagine being tapped seconds before you have to sing before millions. But it's a great way, and the soloist doesn't have time to get nervous.

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  7. I think I might have commented on this last year, but my British mother (now 8 years gone) always played carols from King's College during December, and of course on Christmas day. This is the music that defines Christmas to me. I love the story about the solo chorister being picked just moments before singing.

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  8. We listened on Christmas Eve...and of course I thought of you. Hope you had a wonderful holiday.

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  9. Oh, yes! This IS what Christmas sounds like!

    Your blog is just wonderful!

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  10. ^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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