A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is the Christmas Eve service held in King's College Chapel. The Festival was introduced in 1918 to bring a more imaginative approach to worship. It was first broadcast in 1928 and is now broadcast to millions of people around the world.
The service includes carols and readings from the Bible. The opening carol is always 'Once in Royal David's City', and there is always a new, specially commissioned carol. It is distinct from Carols from King's, which is a carol service pre-recorded for BBC television, also broadcast on Christmas Eve.
Listening to the service
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 on 24 December at 3pm (10:00 EST or 07:00 PST). The service is also broadcast at 2pm on Radio 3 on Christmas Day, and at various times on the BBC World Service.
In the United States the service is broadcast by around 450 radio stations, including American Public Media and its affiliates (Minnesota Public Radio and WNYC-New York, for example). Unfortunately there is no list of radio stations that are broadcasting the service, so it's best to contact your local stations or check their online listings.
Attending the service
Members of the public are warmly invited to join members of College and their personal guests.
We now operate a ticketing system for this service. If you wish to attend, please come to the College early on Christmas Eve morning, with some photographic identification. We will begin distributing tickets at approximately 7am. Each ticket will be for a specific seat in the Chapel and valid only for the person who collects it. As the number of tickets is limited, you are advised to arrive in good time. Those who do receive tickets will be invited to come back after 1:30pm to gain admission to the Chapel. Only one ticket will be given per person; approximately 500 will be available.
Please note that members of the congregation should not bring anything larger than a small handbag with them to the Chapel.
Any questions about gaining admission to the College for this service should be directed to the Head Porter, Mr Neil Seabridge:
At a glance:
- Tickets available from 7am.
- Admission to ticket-holders begins at 1:30pm.
- The service begins at 3:00pm and lasts until shortly after 4:30pm.
- At the end of the service there is an opportunity to contribute to the retiring collection, which is for the maintenance of the Chapel.
- Large bags are not permitted.
Unable to Queue
We offer a very limited number of reserved seats in the Ante-Chapel for people unable to queue because of disability or illness. If you wish to be considered for a maximum of three tickets, please write to the Dean, enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope. We are able to accept applications for Christmas Eve 2018 between 21 May 2018 and 30 September 2018. We regret that we are unable to enter into email correspondence on this subject. Tickets will be dispatched (or a note explaining that we are sorry to disappoint) by 1 November 2018.
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Helping the Chapel and Choir
We receive no funding from national or local organisations to help us pay for the Chapel and Choir. Please consider helping us to maintain the 500 year-old Chapel and its great musical tradition by donating online.
History of the service
Our Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first held on Christmas Eve 1918. It was planned by Eric Milner-White, who at the age of 34 had just been appointed Dean of King's, after experience as an army chaplain which had convinced him that the Church of England needed more imaginative worship.
A revision of the Order of Service was made in 1919, involving rearrangement of the lessons, and from that date the service has always begun with the hymn 'Once in Royal David's City'.
The service was first broadcast in 1928 and, with the exception of 1930, has been broadcast annually, even during the Second World War, when the ancient glass (and also all heat) had been removed from the Chapel.
Sometime in the early 1930's the BBC began broadcasting the service on the World Service. It is estimated that there are millions of listeners worldwide, including those to Radio Four in the United Kingdom.
In recent years it has become the practice to broadcast a digital recording on Christmas Day on Radio Three, and since 1963, a shorter service, which uses different music and readings, has been filmed periodically for television.
There is also a more detailed history of the service.