What is the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols?

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols:

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a church service celebrated on Christmas Eve (or near it) every year. It uses nine short Bible readings (called the "lessons") that take the listener through the story of the fall from sin in the Garden of Eden, to the promise of the coming Messiah, and to the birth of Jesus. Interspersed throughout the lessons are Christmas carols, songs, hymns and/or choral anthems.

The origins of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols dates to Truro Cathedral in Cornwall, England. In the late 1800s Christmas carols were being accepted into the church as a part of worship for celebrating the Incarnation (Christmas). In 1880, the Bishop of Truro added lessons with the carols for the first Nine Lessons and Carols service. It has spread in popularity from that time.

On Christmas Eve, 1918, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was held at King's College, Cambridge in England. This particular service became very popular especially after it began to be broadcast by the BBC in 1928. It was first broadcast on television in 1954 and is still broadcast every year.

Since 1919, the King's College order of service has remained basically the same. Other churches and denominations have taken the format of the lessons and carols and made their own versions by changing the Scriptures read for the lessons or the songs sung for the carols.

For the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols here at the Music of Christmas online course, we will share much of the King's college version of 2008.

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