Every year on Christmas Eve, the service of 9 Lessons and Carols is broadcast on BBC Radio and Televsion from King’s College, Cambridge, a tradition that goes back some 80 years. The tradition has been extended to churches all around the world, who also have an annual service, following the pattern set by the original King’s service. This year, since my friend Mark was visiting, it seemed a perfect excuse to make the trip to Cambridge together.
We set off from home on the 23rd at around 6pm and after a stop in Stoke on Trent to visit a friend, arrived in Cambridge at 12.30am. After a few circuits of Cambridge we finally found our Youth Hostel, and settled in for a luxurious 3 hour sleep.
By 4.45 we were back in the centre of town, and lining up outside the college with our comfy chairs and a much-needed blanket. It isn’t possible to get tickets for the service – patience is all that’s required, and plenty of it. When we arrived there were 3 others in the queue, and almost 15 people curled up in their sleeping bags, waiting for the doors to the college to open. By 9am the quota of 600 seats had already been reached, and people were being turned away.
Despite the cold and dreary weather, we had a great time queuing, singing Christmas Carols, being serenaded by the Choral Scholars, and nipping out of the queue occasionally for a coffee. It was also great fun to chat with others in the queue, especially our closest neighbours, who came from such far flung places as Salisbury, Japan, Australia and the USA. Whilst some of the foreign visitors had taken advantage of being in the UK at Christmas to attend the service, for others it was the reason to travel to the UK.
At 1.30 we were finally allowed into the chapel, where we listened to organ music for 90 minutes until the service started. Despite being at the front of the queue, we were still seated at the far end of the Chapel from the choir, since many of the seats are reserved for family of the choir, and other special people. Still, we were able to see the choir, unlike most of the congregation who were behind the choir screen. The service itself was magical, and the choir sang beautifully – both new music commissioned for the service, and many well known pieces which Mark and I knew from our own choirs.
After such as wonderful day, it was hard to leave Cambridge and make the long drive back up to Manchester. Despite our exhaustion, and a couple unexpected detours, we made it back home in time for a much needed cup of tea before we headed off back to church to sing at Midnight Mass.