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The perfect way to get into the spirit of Christmas
One of the best ways to welcome the advent season is to attend a Christmas carol service, which is a combination of Christmas songs and readings in a cathedral (or church) setting. Although Christmas is still a few weeks away, the carol services are coming up quickly and some are already selling out of tickets. England has over forty cathedrals and many more places of worship that offer beautiful services during the holiday season. The following five were chosen for their notably high quality productions, as well as ability to appeal to audiences of all ages, beliefs, and backgrounds.
The small village of Southwell may not be familiar, even for those who live in the surrounding areas. The minster (or Cathedral of Nottinghamshire) is perhaps one of the most well-hidden of England's great churches. The cathedral also has one of the best choirs, which is put to good use during the advent season. The Dean of Southwell perhaps best sums up a visit to the minster: 'This stunning place still brings visitors to their knees in wonder and awe'.
Southwell Minster choir stalls. Photo by Richard Croft.
24th December 3.30pm: Choral Evensong 7.00pm: Cathedral Carol Service
Contact the church office or website for information on obtaining tickets.
Church Street Southwell
Magdalen College, Oxford
This Grammy award nominated choir will be presenting three Christmas carol services: Music and Readings for Advent at 6pm on 25th November, which is free, and Carols by Candlelight at 6pm on the 8th and 9th of December, which costs £7.50 to benefit local charities.
Although the services and chapel are quite old and traditional, the college makes a point to create an atmosphere where all are welcome. This sentiment is deeply felt at the carol services where students, professors, locals, and people from across the world gather together to celebrate the season.Tickets are required for all services - see website for further details.
01865 305 305
Southwark Cathedral, London
Southwark Cathedral is located on the south side of the Thames near London Bridge and is described as 'an oasis of calm' by church members. On December 21st and 23rd the cathedral will be performing a traditional carol service, which is free of charge (no tickets required). The service will incorporate traditional hymns alternating with readings from the King James Bible. The cathedral is hosting a variety of other carol events throughout December – the full details of which are available on the website.
York is one of England's oldest towns and home to many national treasures, including the thousand year old York Minster. The church is hosting a range of choral services beginning with an Advent Procession on December 2nd, which consists of music, readings, and prayers by candlelight. A traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols will take place on the 23rd and 24th of December at 4pm. The Advent Procession and Service of Lessons and Carols are free.
Towers of the York Minster. Photo by Erin Connelly.
By far the most popular service is the Christmas Carol Concert taking place on the 7th and 14th of December at 7pm with the minster's award-winning choir and guest readers. Tickets are required for this event and it sells out very quickly (waiting list spots are available). Full details available at the official website.
0844 939 0011
King's College, Cambridge
The most well-known and acclaimed of all England's carol services is held every Christmas Eve at King's College, University of Cambridge. The service, A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, is broadcast to millions of people across the world and features all the elements of a traditional English carol service.
To attend the service, you must queue at the Chapel. Gates are opened at 7.30am, the queue is admitted to the chapel at 1.30pm, and the service begins at 3pm. Choir members will often sing to the queue to help the time pass more quickly. This very beautiful and highly popular event is definitely worth an early morning start and wait in the brisk winter weather.
Whether you're religious around the Christmas season or not, attending a carol service is a very English tradition that will leave you with a feeling of goodwill and peace –the essence of the Christmas spirit.