Advent and Christmas Carol Services

For many, the real start of Christmas is the ‘Service of Nine Lessons and Carols’ from King’s College, Cambridge, broadcast to the world by the BBC. This service was devised by Archbishop Benson when he was Bishop of Truro for use in that Cathedral, and was only later simplified and modified for use at Cambridge in 1918 by the then Dean, the Very Reverend Eric Milner-White.

In 1934, Dean White composed a further service, ‘A procession with Carols upon Advent Sunday’. In the preface to this new service, White expressed his concern for more imaginative forms of worship. He wrote: ‘In the old English liturgies, the Advent Offices made a preparation for the coming of our Lord to this earth far more vivid and eager than those of our present Prayer book. So an Advent Carol Service, if without precedent, is not without suitability, if it helps to express "the desire of all nations and ages". The purpose of the Service was "not to celebrate Christmas, but to expect it".

In the Christmas Eve service, the lessons form the framework, which is followed by the carols, while in the Advent service many of the texts are set to music and contribute themselves to the basic form. The Advent Service is also broadcast, and the BBC have shared the honour of this by regularly broadcasting this service from the Chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge.

Nigel Day
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 28th November 1997