17th December 2023

The traditional ‘Festival of Nine Lessons with Carols’ may have long associations with King’s College Cambridge but its popularity at St. James’ Stalmine, makes it a firm favourite in the local Christmas calendar.

Nine short Bible readings tell the story of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah and the birth of Jesus interspersed with carols and choral music. The final reading from St. John, is the Gospel reading for Christmas Day.  In it, he unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation:

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only,

who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1: vv 1 – 14

The first Nine Lessons and Carols to be held at King’s College Cambridge, was on Christmas Eve 1918.  It was devised by the Dean, Eric Milner-White, as an alternative to the Christmas Eve, Book of Common Prayer, Evening Prayer service, and was based on an earlier service used in Truro Cathedral.  It has been broadcast from King’s College virtually every Christmas Eve since 1928 (being officially discontinued during WW2 for security reasons).

For Paul Buckmaster, (St. James’ Director of Music) this year’s ‘Nine Lessons’ is his 33rd.  During this long period, the choir has sung seventy three different ‘choir’ carols and arrangements in addition to the usual congregational ones. This year’s ‘new’ carol was “Love came down at Christmas”, with words based on Christina Rossetti’s poem and music written by Joanna Forbes L’Estrange.  The music was only composed in 2023, and was likely to be featured in similar services up and down the country today.

Other carols included ‘Silent Night’ (Mohr/Grüber), arranged by John Rutter, slightly modified by Paul; and ‘Adam Lay Y’bounden’ by Peter Warlock; in addition to a Welsh carol, ‘Hoedd yn y wlad honno’ paraphrased by Caradog Roberts (but sung in English!); and a perennial favourite, ‘Starlight’, written by Giles Swayne.

The Advent journey is almost over…