Visit our new site at

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wednesday Festival: Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, and Other Considerations

Kings College Chapel, Cambridge

Don't know much about the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols? Well, here you go!

It's held all over the world, and (according to Wiki), the format is based on an Order drawn up by Edward White Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury, for Christmas Eve (24 December) 1880 in Truro, Cornwall. It has since been adapted and used by other churches all over the world. In the UK, the service has become the standard format for schools' Christmas carol services.

The best-known version is broadcast annually from King's College, Cambridge, on Christmas Eve. It features carols by the famous Choir of King's College, Cambridge, and is broadcast on BBC Worldwide.

My dear British friend wrote to me about this service that it is "a little more than special to me." This was the service her grandparents hauled her to every year. She remembers "English winter - cold, bitterly cold, many times snow, no automobile, we walked to church. Church had candles, no electricity..." It is indeed a spare, holy, and joyous festival.

If you would like to participate in such a service and don't have one in mind, I suggest that you Google your local (area) newspaper and search on "Lessons and Carols." It is likely to be held in Episcopal, Anglican, Lutheran or Roman Catholic churches. And if you can't find one, try to make time to listen to the BBC World Service's live Christmas Eve broadcast from King's College Cambridge, to be held at 15:00 on December 24 (that comes out to 8 am in my neck of the woods...) What? you say? you're a pastor and can't be sitting around listening to the radio on Christmas Eve? Well, you can buy a recording of last year's service here.


In RevGals Lessons and Carols News:

Leah Sophia attended Lessons and Carols at the University of San Diego's Founders Chapel on Sunday and writes about it here, and

I sang with my Annunciaton Episcopal church choir in our version of Lessons and Carols on Sunday, too. You can read about my experience of it at my place.

And on a slightly different note, tra la la: Sally writes here about moving from Advent to Christmas.

So...have you been to a Lessons and Carols service, St. Lucia service, St. Nicholas Mass....Longest Night or Blue Christmas service? or other special Christmas celebration? Or just what is it you are thinking, blogging, sermonizing about?

Please share with us in the comments. If you want to link to your blog on this, remember the formulation: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>


  1. We will have two Advent L&C services, one at each parish. One will be an evening service that will be followed by the greening of the church and a dessert potluck, and the other will be held within the context of Holy Communion the following week.

    And then, because Christmas is such a short season and this priest is terribly unbending about not allowing Christmas music in Advent, we will also have a Christmas L&C service during the season.

  2. Darn, forgot to email this in earlier!

    I'm hosting the Fourth Annual Sappy Christmas Song contest at my place.
    Here is the Kickoff Post and the Rules and here is the first update

  3. Ah, very interesting Reverend Ref+! My parish, also, is very staid about "no Christmas music in Advent," but we do have it in L&C. And I appreciate it. It's an opportunity to hear it the "right" way instead of a Muzak way, in the season where we are so surrounded with the latter drecky type.

    Grace! So glad to see the Song Contest Back! Coming over to see.

  4. Last year I was delighted to find that the program/order of worship for the King's College L&C is online, so I was able to follow along while listening to the service. I don't remember the website (actually it's probably the one you linked), but it's probably linked from

    Our new pastor is a little TOO lax about allowing Christmas music during Advent for my taste. Oh well.

  5. We do a Christmas Lessons and Carols the Sunday after Christmas - it makes it a joyous little festival morning - and gives all of those who didn't make it to Christmas Eve services a chance to hear the story once again.

  6. I'm thinking at my place about maintaining a long pastorate (as well as maintaining myself). Nothing especially Christmas-y, but feel free to check back over my entries the past two weeks or so to get that.

  7. L & C on the 27th. Christmas carols before Christmas... tsk!! :D

    It comes on here [UK] at 3pm Christmas Eve and if I'm not tripping over Christingles, etc. in a kids service somewhere, I love waiting with anticipation for the boy soprano to kick it all off with Once In Royal David's City... this is basically the time of year where my closet Anglican is allowed out for an hour before my Presbyterian sensibilities take over!! :D

  8. We did L & C -- ADVENT L&C -- on Advent Onen the lessons, Advent hymns, and some lovely choir carols. And a potluck supper "that couldn't be beat"'s a happy tradition in this place and the in-town veddy veddy high Angl0-Catholic parish join us as our guests each year. They have a choir of 4, 3 of whom are they are glad to join a SATB joyful noise.

  9. We do L&C the Sunday after Christmas, which of course gives us a chance to do some different music. In a fit of insanity, I will actually sing the Morten Lauridsen "O Magnum Mysterium" in between readings this year. Since I don't have much to do after the Bidding Prayers and until the Eucharist (no, we don't do the full nine, we only do five), I can trot over to the piano and do it. Yikes!

  10. I went to my very first L&C at seminary last week, and have to say, I was not enamored of it. Perhaps it just wasn't what I expected, but I had hoped for more congregational singing and less listening to the choir (although it was beautiful).

    What was wonderful was the English exchange students leading compline later that evening complete with "christingles" which most of us had never seen before. The christingle-candlelight singing of "O come O come Emmanuel" in the chapel that night was the most beautiful and moving rendition I have ever heard.

    (Not to mention potentially dangerous, considering 50+ seminarians had consumed 25 bottles of wine prior to the service and were each holding a lit candle stuck in an orange...)

  11. We did Advent L&C last Sunday morning. This year, we used all hymns and yes, they were all Advent hymns. We will also do Christmas L&C on the 27th, singing many of the carols we wouldn't otherwise fit into the season. We'll see how it goes.

    One of the highlights of seminary was the L&C at All Saints Chapel. It's a space that mimics Kings Chapel and the choir, while missing boy sopranos, was always magnificent. It started my love for this service.

  12. Hi, good to find that I am not the only Minister who doesn't sing Christmas Carols during Advent -except for the Hard to be Merry Service [I think you called it a Blue Christmas, Longest Night doesn't quite work in with Christmas in Summer]. When I first started here, a few years ago, it seemed I was the only Minister who could be so cruel and heartless :)
    We do sing Carols on Christmas Eve - lots of carols - this seems to work well for people who are too busy to come Christmas morning.

    We offer Hard to Be Merry this weekend, and while numbers are usually small, it is a helpful service for those who feel out of kilter with the [apparent] joy and merriment of everyone around them. I haven’t done lessons and carols, but if ever I can’t get a lay preacher for Christmas 1, that is what I would offer.
    I haven't heard of Advent L&C - can anyone send me a link, I will think about it for next year.

  13. Practicing Sacred RhythmsDecember 10, 2009 at 9:16 AM

    I am doing a lessons and carols service for Christmas Eve this year. It's a work by Joe Martin which means there are wonderful piano parts - but they are requiring me to find time for daily practice.

  14. Practicing Sacred RhythmsDecember 10, 2009 at 9:19 AM

    Should add that the Festival of Carols by Joe Martin does have ample opportunities for the congregation to sing with the choir. In fact, we print all of the words in a bulletin (sometimes Powerpoint but not this year since techy son won't be at the Candlelight service) and the congregation is most welcome to sing them all with us.

  15. We do reading, anthem by choir, then congregational carol. For EVERY reading. It can get a bit long...

    especially if one were not a music lover.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.