Christmas Eve Service of Nine lessons & Carols

Christ the Redeemer Church warmly welcomes you to our Christmas Eve Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. The service will tell of God's ancient plan of salvation by reading Bible passages and singing Christmas Carols. Come on out and rejoice with us as we celebrate the New Born King.

Service Date & Time: December 24th, 7:00 pm

A Brief History of the service

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first held at King’s College on Christmas Eve 1918. It was planned by Eric Milner-White, who had just been appointed Dean after experience as an army chaplain; this experience convinced him that the Church of England needed more imaginative worship. Evensong, topped and tailed with carols, had been the Christmas Eve service until then but the young Dean, only thirty-four at the time, decided that there was scope for something a little more imaginative. The 1918 service was adapted from an order drawn up by E. W. Benson for use at 10 pm on Christmas Eve in 1880, in the large wooden ‘shed’ which then served as his Cathedral in Truro. A. C. Benson recalled: ‘My father arranged from ancient sources a little service for Christmas Eve – nine carols and nine tiny lessons, which were read by various officers of the Church, beginning with a chorister, and ending, through the different grades, with the Bishop.’ Milner-White used Benson’s plan, but wrote the now classic Bidding Prayer to set the tone at the beginning. Since then the spoken parts, which provide the backbone of the service, have only occasionally been changed. The service was first broadcast in 1928 and, with the exception of 1930, it has been broadcast annually, even during the Second World War, when the ancient glass had been removed from the Chapel – some say you could hear the tar-paper flapping in the background over the radio. 


In the early 1930s the BBC began broadcasting the service on overseas programmes. It is estimated that there are millions of listeners worldwide, including those on Radio Four in the United Kingdom. A recording of the service is broadcast on Christmas Day on Radio Three. It was first transmitted to the United States in the 1970s on Minnesota Public Radio and is now relayed by hundreds of radio stations there. From time to time the College receives copies of services held many thousands of miles from Cambridge, and these show how widely the tradition has spread. The broadcasts, too, have become part of Christmas for many far from Cambridge. One correspondent wrote of hearing the service in a tent on the foothills of Everest; another, in the desert. Many listen at home, some are busy with their own preparations for Christmas; others make time to sit down, either alone or with friends, and join in with the congregational carols, perhaps having previously printed out this order of service. Wherever the service is heard and however it is adapted, whether the music is provided by choir or congregation, the pattern and strength of the service, as Milner-White pointed out, derive from the lessons. ‘The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God …’ seen ‘through the windows and the words of the Bible’. Local interests appear, as they do here, in the Bidding Prayer. Personal circumstances give point to different parts of the service. Many of those who took part in the first service must have recalled those killed in the Great War when it came to the famous passage ‘all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light’. When they hear these words, following the extraordinary events of this year, many today might be thinking of a loved one who has died recently.