The first Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at the King’s College was held on Christmas Eve of 1918. College Dean, Eric Milner-White felt worship needed to be a little more imaginative. A year later, there was one revision made to the Order of Service, where the lessons were rearranged and the service began with Once In Royal David’s City. Since this date, the lessons and prayers have not changed. The service was published and many churches have adapted it and used it for their own..

The first radio broadcast of the service was produced by the BBC in 1928. Starting in 1963, a shorter version has periodically been televised. This service has become a household tradition for a worldwide audience of millions.

King’s College recounts stories of shared anticipation and joy regarding the service:

One correspondent writes that he heard the service in a tent on the foothills of Everest; another, in the desert. Many listen at home, busy about their own preparations for Christmas. Visitors from all over the world are heard to identify the Chapel as ‘the place where the Carols are sung’.

Though the musical service from place to place might be different compared to King’s College, the beauty and purpose of the experience is the same. Dean Milner-White writes, “The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God . . . seen through the windows and words of the Bible.”

St. Michael’s by-the-Sea’s Lessons and Carols service is modeled after the King’s College Chapel service and celebrated on the Fourth Sunday in Advent. Join in the festivities on December 18th at 4:00 pm for Carol singing, Scripture reading, and holiday cheer. All are welcome! A dessert reception will follow.

This article was derived from the King’s College article “History of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” at