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Carol Services - Where Did They Come From?

It's the time of year for Christmas carol services. These services are usually a series of bible readings that tell of the story of Christianity until the birth of Jesus interspersed with music - either sung by the choir or by everyone. Our first carol service is on Sunday 10th December at St Oswald's and our second on 17th December at St Dunstan's.

Festive carols and other music date back for many centuries. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and While Shepherds Watched are both thought to date back to the middle ages. The tunes and words of favourites O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark the Herald Angels Sing were probably brought together in the 18th century. Away In A Manger appeared in the late nineteenth century.

It is easy to think that that carol services have been part of church tradition for hundreds of years. But carols had more usually been sung by wandering bands of singers and were not part of church worship. It is thought that the first church carol service took place in Truro Cathedral in 1880, led by Bishop Edward Benson, who was later to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

Their popularity blossomed with the famous service of Nine Lessons And Carols at King's College, Cambridge. The first of these services was not until Christmas Eve 1918. Led by the Dean of King's College, Eric Milner-White. An army chaplain in the First World War, it is said that he wanted more imaginative worship in the wake of terrors of conflict, although it broadly followed Bishop Benson's template from Truro. The service proved popular and was first broadcast by the BBC in 1928. TV broadcasts began in 1956. The service is now watched and listened to by many millions of people worldwide.

As a consequence, carol services developed in churches across the country and swiftly became a mainstay of Christmas celebrations.

We look forward to welcoming you in our churches to hear the Christmas story and join with us in song.

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