The lights dim; the congregation falls silent. Faces glowing by candlelight, the Wimbledon High School Choir processes solemnly from the back of the Church.. Hushed anticipation- everyone waiting for the young soloist to sing the first verse of Once in Royal David City. Traditionally, Wimbledon High School's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols commences...


The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a traditional Christian service celebrating the birth of Christ. Always opening with the hymn "Once in Royal David's City", it consists of nine Biblical readings interspersed with hymns and carols. These readings and carols follow the story of the fall of man, and the promise of the Saviour, to the birth of Jesus, ending jubilantly with the hymn "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". The historic service, commonly associated with King's College Cambridge, probably originated in Truro Cathedral (Cornwall) where the Bishop of Truro, Edward White Benson, conducted a festival of 'Nine Lessons and Carols' in 1880. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1883, and his service surged in popularity and has been  cemented into Church of England worship for over 125 years.


At Wimbledon High School, the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols has been a tradition for many years- marking both Christmas and the end of the Autumn term. Held a day before the holidays, this service displays the students' musical talents as part of a spiritual, religious festival. The students involved in the service, either in the various choirs or orchestra, or those reading a text, worked diligently to ensure the event ran as perfectly as possible. During the term, Talia Day practiced four times a week preparing musical items for the service. Asked about the process, she said "The experience has been really rewarding- the rehearsals are always very lively (despite some being so early in the morning!) and I really enjoy the repertoire of music we learnt." Alex De Silva, a student reader in the service, echoed this thought saying: " I've really enjoyed reading and connecting with the chosen texts for the service."


This particular Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was particularly poignant as, due to COVID, it had to be held digitally last year. Fortunately this year Wimbledon High School were able to hold the service live in the glorious Sacred Heart Church. Although COVID meant that the congregation was reduced, the excitement of a live event was palpable, and the incredible space, acoustics, and organ of the Sacred Heart Church helped make the service a memorable experience.