December 24, 2010

Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols, An Annual Tradition

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 festivities later on in the day. This is a quiet 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.kings_choir

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. kings college cambridge

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


  1. Meg This is such a wonderful tradition!! The Kings College Chapel is breathtaking!

    Joyeaux Noel!

    Art by Karena

  2. It is my favorite Christmas Eve tradition, a separation from all the other holiday stuff... parties and shopping, etc. I sets the tone for the real meaning of Christmas. I would not miss it. Have a Merry Christmas.

  3. Oh, it IS quite something! Being unfamiliar, I had to search this out, link to follow:

  4. I will be listening to this, too. No doubt I will get a tear in my eye and think of your words!
    Such lovely pictures.
    Best holiday wishes from Bee x

  5. Those pictures remind me of Hogwarts at Yuletide... minus the floating candles, of course.

  6. Meg, too funny! I just posted that while I am getting ready for Christmas today, I have been listening to the King's College choir all day, including my FAVORITE carol "Once in Royal David's City"!! I love that solo beginning, so haunting. I just adore it and have heard it sung by both a male and female solo singer. Each time I think it is my favorite version. Thanks for the informative post as I didn't know much about them!

    Merry Christmas! xo Terri in Canada

  7. Meg, I have so enjoyed all of these posts! Merry Christmas, my friend!

  8. Meg, it always makes me cry too! Actually, all the traditional minor-key carols do that. I have pictures of my Mum with a pram and 4 babies/toddlers outside Kings College the year we lived there and the Cam froze completely. This is our first Christmas without her. Happy meories, though.

  9. Meg, I woke this morning and remembered I wanted to listen to the broadcast, but forgot where. Then I thought Meg will know, and there it is.

    Merry Christmas and a thousand thanks for all the joy you bring.

  10. Let me at her...I love and read your blog almost every day. It keeps me in touch with the rest of the world as we live in the middle of no where on a mountain in Mt. and your blog is such a delight...


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