CHristmas Eve

New album from

The service of Nine Lessons and Carols this afternoon at King’s College Cambridge has an extra resonance.

It is the last time that the choir will be conducted by Stephen Cleobury who has been responsible for the music over the last 37 years.

He was appointed Director of Music in 1982.

It is also the 100th anniversary of the Nine Lessons and Carols service being held at King’s College on Christmas Eve and the 90th anniversary of the first broadcast of the service from the chapel.

The service, invented at Truro Cathedral and first heard outside Cornwall at St Mary Lambeth, is now the start of Christmas for millions of people in the UK and abroad.

In America it is often the background to Christmas Eve breakfast. 

When does Advent become Christmas? We all have our own moment: 3pm when BBC Radio 4 broadcasts the service from King’s and the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City is heard; vespers; evening prayer; the First Mass of Christmas about 6pm or Midnight Mass.

Whatever the moment, it is the start of tomorrow and the twelve days of Christmas. 

O SapientIa: setTing out

A donkey at Westminster Cathedral for a children’s carol service earlier this Advent

Today is a turning point in Advent as we look towards Christ’s first coming.

By tradition it is said that today Mary and Joseph are setting out on their 90 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem by foot and donkey.

This is about the same distance as the Pilgrims’ Way from Southwark Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral.

In Mexico there is the custom of daily Las Posadas processions until Christmas which enact Mary and Joseph looking for a bed night by night.

From now until 23 December a special antiphon is said or sung before and after the Magnificat at evening prayer addressing the Messiah by an ancient title.

Today’s is O Sapientia meaning O Wisdom.

A version can also be heard before the Gospel reading at Mass:

Wisdom of the Most High, ordering all things with strength and gentleness, come and teach us the way of truth.



Three candles. Sometimes the third one his pink like the vestments

The focus as we light the third Advent candle is on John the Baptist who tells of the coming of Christ.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading speaks of ‘a feeling of expectancy’.

We are on the cusp of looking expectantly ahead to Christmas

On Monday there is the start of the O Antiphon countdown to Christmas Eve. Tuesday is the Expectation of Mary. 

So at this mid point in Advent, like halfway through Lent, the liturgical colour for vestments and altar frontal is rose or sometimes more like pink.

This third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday,  meaning Rejoice Sunday.

it’s yet another sign of the turning point. But it’s not Christmas yet.

St Lucy’s Day

Lucia in Stockholm

“Buns are expressive of religious devotion quite as much as anything else,”  says Melanie McDonagh writing about St Lucy’s Day in The Tablet.

Today is St Lucy’s Day, an Advent stepping stone, and in Sweden most people will be enjoying a least one saffron bread roll called a Lussikatter.

Parents of young children will have their first bun early in the morning when the daughter of the house, dressed as St Lucy with lights on her head, enters their bedroom with coffee and Lussikatters and singing the Sankta Lucia song.

Some young women in the Lucia costume will have a crown of real candles flickering on their head as they lead a procession in church today.

The tradition recalls the the claim that St Lucy wore candles on her head to keep her hands free to carry food as she visited persecuted Christians hiding in Sicilian catacombs.

Lucy died for her faith at the hands of the Roman authorities in 304.

Today she is a symbol of the light of Christ to be  celebrated at Christmas and again at Easter.

There are big Lucia services today in her home town of Siracusa, Naples where the song originated and Stockholm.

***Bageriet Swedish baker in Rose Street, off Long Acre in London’s Covent Garden, is selling Lussikatter buns today.

***Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral has a Lucia service on Saturday evening.

***Sankta Lucia will be visiting St James’s Church, Merton, during the 9.30am Sunday Mass on 16 December. The church is on the corner of Martin Way and Beaford Grove near South Merton Station.

Barcelona Cathedral poster

Holy House at Loreto

Angels and Holy House in Musselbrugh church window

At The Church of Our Lady of Loretto & St Michael in Musselburgh today the Sunday congregation sang the parish’s own Loreto hymn.

Monday 10 December is Our Lady of Loreto which marks the translation in 1294 of the Holy House from Nazareth to Loreto in Italy. 

Lovely imagery depicts the Virgin Mary’s house being brought by angels but it was really  transported across land and sea by the Angeli family.

It was in this little building that Mary was confronted by the angel announcing that she was to give birth to Jesus. The famous incident is remembered every March, nine months before Christmas. 

So, although we are now near Christmas, Monday is a good day to recall the Annunciation from which Christmas and so much flows.

Loreto poster 

Immaculate Conception

Traditional lights in Lyon

In Paris lights in a window on 8 December often indicated that the occupant was from Lyon.

This evening’s mega La Fête des Lumières  light show in Lyon has grown out of the local tradition of placing candles in windows on the Immaculate Conception.

The Immaculate Conception doctrine was first developed in Anglo-Saxon England and celebrated in Winchester in 1030.

In the 14th century Scottish Franciscan Duns Scotus promoted its observance.

The earliest existing picture featuring the Immaculate Conception is dated 1492 and displayed in London’s National Gallery.

Today by keeping the Immaculate Conception we celebrate the conception by St Anne of the Virgin Mary who was born nine months later (8 September) free of sin.

Fourvière Basilica (Photo: © M.Chaulet/Ville de Lyon)

St Nicholas Day in Italy, Spain and Turkey

Parish Clerks’ Company banner

In 1885 Father Christmas made his first appearance in a British department store.

This was Beales in Bournemouth and his annual arrival during the 20th century was much like the appearance in procession of St Nicholas in the main square of Nancy in Lorraine last Saturday.

The French town was crowded with families seeing St Nicholas arrive in a carriage for a balcony appearance. Lots of letters had been written to St Nicholas and posted in special  post boxes just as children used to in Beales when writing to Father Christmas.

Father Christmas is derived from Nicholas who is also responsible for the Christmas stocking tradition.

St Nicholas from Turkey is an example of Christian charity in action and today he is patron not only of of children (of course) but  pawnbrokers. apothecaries, parish clerks and sailors.

Cities adopting Nicholas as patron include Aberdeen, Liverpool, Portsmouth and New York.

Major observances of St Nicholas Day today Thursday 6 December take place at Bari in Italy, Brussels in Belgium, Demre in Turkey and Alicante in Spain.

***See St Nicholas (looking much like Father Christmas) arrive in style at Canterbury Cathedral this Saturday at 1pm.

Beales in Bournemouth with Father Christmas sleigh in entrance

Église St-Nicolas altar in Brussels

It’s not Christmas yet! #SLOWCHRISTMAS campaign

Advent wreath candles count down the weeks to Christmas

Leigh Hatts, author of Keeping Advent & Christmas, is calling on churches and businesses to discover the riches of Advent and not celebrate Christmas too early.

“Putting up Christmas trees and decorations before Remembrance Sunday or Black Friday is devaluing Christmas,” says Leigh Hatts.

“First comes the Advent season of Old Testament prophesies and expectation with John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary.

“This is the time to keep Advent which begins this week.

“Christmas really starts on Christmas Eve and lasts for twelve days whilst we wait for the Three Kings to arrive on The Epiphany, Sunday 6 January.

“Our fellow Christians in Europe tend to keep this climax with parties and outdoor processions whilst we in the British Isles overwhelmingly ignore it.”

“The festival days following 25 December explain the enormity of what we recognise at Christmas and is our real time for celebration.”

Leigh Hatts, who welcomes the Church of England’s own 12 day Follow the Star initiative, is also suggesting that in future years churches consider “shifting Christmas from Advent to the real Christmas dates” and avoid having a any suspension of daily services once Christmas Day worship is over.

Those supporting the Slow Christmas campaign are being invited to Tweet using the #SlowChristmas hashtag.

“This can be the beginning of a slow change to a more authentic Christmas.”

Advent begins

First Advent candle lit tonight

As dusk falls we are entering Advent.

Tonight Advent carol services are starting in Salisbury, Winchester and other darkened  cathedrals lit only by candles.

In parish churches Advent wreaths are ready to have their first candle lit in the morning.

We are entering a period of reflection on Old Testament prophesies and the coming of Christ again.

Rob Marshall, on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for Day this morning, said that Advent was his favourite season which he described as “a journey of learning to wait”.

It’s not Christmas yet and there is three weeks to go before we even start following Mary and Joseph in real time on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Leigh Hatts