Thursday, December 23, 2010

An English Christmas: King’s College

For a number of years, an important part of my personal celebration of Christmas has been listening to the live broadcast on Christmas Eve of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge. This program, which has been broadcast every year (save one) since 1928, is listened to around the world by millions of people.  When I tune in, I not only enjoy the beautiful music, but I also feel connected with people the world over, knowing that they are all listening to this lovely service at the same time I am.  For me, it gives new meaning to the phrase, “peace on [the whole] earth, goodwill toward men.”

Along the Wasatch Front, this program is always broadcast on KBYUFM at on Christmas Eve morning.  It is also carried on many public radio stations throughout the United States, and no doubt on CBC in Canada.  

This particular service became an annual tradition in December 1918, shortly after the close of the devastation of World War I, which had cut such a wide swath through young English manhood.  It was even broadcast during the Second World War, despite the fact that the precious stained glass windows of King’s College Chapel had been removed to preserve them from possible bomb damage and there was no heating in the building.

The service traditionally begins with the voice of a lone boy (always chosen shortly before the service) singing the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City.  The following video captures this.  I hope you might have an opportunity to listen to this beautiful service and that it might enrich your celebration of the season.

Merry Christmas!


  1. Thank you, IP! I for one was not aware of this Christmastime broadcast; my partner and I will definitely make it an annual tradition.

    There is something . . . uniquely ethereal about the tonal quality of young boys’ voices before they change. The Kings College video reminds me of a favorite movie: Perfect Harmony. It is a 1991 movie set in the South at an exclusive boys academy during a racially changing era. The singing and music make it worthwhile viewing.

  2. Trey - I'm so glad! I agree re boys' voices. I used to have a higher soprano voice than my sister, then my voice changed and it was several years before I felt comfortable singing in choir - as a bass! And thanks for the recommendation re Perfect Harmony; I wasn't familiar with that movie. So I guess we're even. Hope you and your partner have a WONDERFUL Christmas.