A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

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.

The Choir of King’s College, directed by Daniel Hyde, sings a glorious selection of carols, while the Christmas story is told in poetry and the words of the King James Bible.

Presented in a stunning hardback book with over 50 pages of notes, commentary and photography, this is the definitive account of a piece of musical history.

Listening to the Service

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service 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). As there is no list of radio stations that are broadcasting the service it's best to contact your local stations or check their online listings.

Order of Service

If you are listening to A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols you may also wish to follow along with the Order of Service. The booklet for this year's service can be viewed in the window below or downloaded to a separate tab.

Attending the Service

Members of the public are warmly invited to join members of College and their personal guests.

We 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 regret that this service is not suitable for young children. A queue will begin to form in the early hours; in recent years the maximum number has been reached long before we begin distributing tickets at approximately 7am. Only one ticket will be given to per person; approximately 500 will be available. if you are unable to queue please see the information below.

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.

Those fortunate enough to be given tickets are invited to note that they should not bring anything larger than a small handbag with them to the Chapel for the service.

At a glance:

  • Tickets are distributed to those waiting at 7.00am on the day. Please arrive early to avoid disappointment.
  • Admission to ticket-holders begins at 1.30pm with last entry shortly after 2.30pm.
  • Members of the congregation will not be able to leave until about 4.45pm
  • We regret that this service is not suitable for young children.

If you are not able to attend in person you can of course join the millions who wil be enjoying it live on the Radio.  

Also, on Christmas Day there is a service of Holy Communion with carols at 11.00 am. Members of the public are warmly invited to join the College community for this service for which a queue forms first outside the College and then in front of the south door. Any people, including young children, unable to attend on Christmas Eve are most welcome on Christmas Day.

Any questions about gaining admission to the College for this service should be directed to the Head Porter at porters@kings.cam.ac.uk

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 would like to be considered for a ticket for yourself and up to two supportive companions, or wish to make an application on behalf of someone who is unable to queue, to be accompanied by up to two supportive companions (i.e. a maximum of three), please write to the Dean, enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope.  In your letter please briefly explain why you would be unable to queue and whether you will be attending in a wheelchair or have any other specific access-related requirements. We are able to accept applications for Christmas Eve 2020 between 1 May 2020 and 30 September 2020.  We regret that we are unable to enter into email or telephone correspondence on this subject.  We anticipate that tickets will be dispatched (or a note explaining that we are sorry to disappoint) by 2 November 2020.

Carols from King’s is televised on BBC Two on Christmas Eve and is a different service to A Festival of Nine Lessons.
Our Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first held on Christmas Eve 1918.
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An archive of service booklets for Nine Lessons dating back to 1997.
Members of the public are warmly welcomed to join us for acts of worship including daily Evensong and sung Eucharist on Sundays.