Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Not the Nine Lessons and Carols

I do love the Nine Lessons. It's really special. The live broadcast on Christmas Eve from King's College chapel always feels like the moment Christmas really begins. Those wonderful opening lines...

Beloved, be it this Christmas Eve our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels; in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.

And then, in the darkness, a lone chorister chosen (at King's) just moments earlier, pipes up with the first verse of Once in Royal David's City. It all seems so timeless, so eternal, immutable and beautiful.

In fact, the service as we know it is less than a century old. Using a sequence first devised at Truro cathedral in 1880, the new Dean of King's College, Cambridge, Eric Milner-White, planned the service for Christmas Eve 1918, having become convinced by his army service that the Church of England needed more imaginative worship. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Anyway, much as I love it there's an awful lot of lovely Christmas music and wonderfully evocative writing that doesn't feature, so I thought in the run-up to the big day I'd share my own 'nine lessons and carols' with the world, a sort of 'Not the Nine Lessons' if you like, but every bit as good. I hope.

Here, to begin at the beginning, and in the dim light of my imagination rather than the darkness of a distant college chapel, is a Christmas song by Michael Head, The Little Road to Bethlehem. My earliest Christmas memory of this beautiful little carol is of my mother singing it. Unfortunately, no recording of her doing so exists, so here's Sarah Walker standing in for her instead:

To follow, here's the first lesson from the Gospel according to one of my favourite authors, Laurie Lee. I challenge anyone to listen to this and not start to feel something of the true meaning of Christmas...

Join me tomorrow for number two!

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