Where and when to go to catch the best festive traditional tunes
Feeling festive? In need of a carol service or concert to get your vocal cords into? There’s plenty going on over the course of the month to tempt.
Broadcast live from King’s College Chapel on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Eve at 3pm, A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is the main event for huge numbers of people, with queues forming before dawn. The service started in 1918 and has been broadcast since 1928. Nowadays, millions tune in around the world as it is also broadcast live on the BBC World Service (with a repeat on BBC Radio 3 on Christmas Day, too) and since 1919 it always starts with Once in Royal David’s City.
If you want to go, get there very early on Christmas Eve with some form of photo ID, as staff will begin distributing tickets from 7am. Each ticket – there are approximately 500 – will be for a specific seat and valid only for the person who collects it; only one ticket will be given per person. If you’re lucky to get one, you can go back for admission from 1.30pm for the 90-minute service from 3pm.
Despite its popularity, the event is often confused with Carols From King’s. This is televised on BBC Two on Christmas Eve, but recorded earlier in the month.
Ely Cathedral has a huge choice throughout December in the run up to the big day, culminating in Hark! The Herald, the annual carol concert on the 22nd. Expect traditional carols and seasonal music with a 30ft Christmas tree in the background. The soaring voices of the cathedral’s choir will be accompanied by Ely Sinfonia. Tickets from £10.
On 7 December, the cathedral also hosts its Festival of Carols, featuring special guest Ruthie Henshall – who has had a long career in musical theatre, starring in Cats and Miss Saigon – plus seasonal readings and poems. Tickets from £12. Littleport Brass band takes centre stage at Ely Cathedral at 2pm on 15 December, for a Community Christmas Carol Sing-a-long, with free entry. Events for younger children and families include the Big Christmas Tree Lights Switch-on Service on 9 December and Christmas Story and Song Time on the 13th.
A Rotary Club charity carol concert in aid of Arthur Rank Hospice Charity and Cambridge Churches Homeless Project takes place at Great St Mary’s Church on 10 December, featuring five local school choirs. Tickets are £10.
On 16 December at 6.30pm there will be carols by candlelight at The Leper Chapel on Newmarket Road, with Cottenham Brass Band performaing at the atmospheric 12th-century building.
If singing’s not quite your thing, sit back and watch New Cambridge Singers’ Christmas Concert. It features Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols and one-act opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, by Gian Carlo Menotti, in which the three kings bring gifts to children. It takes place at St Vigor’s Church, Fulbourn, on 8 December, and St John the Evangelist Church, Hills Road, on 15 December.
Also on the 15th, you can enjoy Christmas Carols on the Cam with Let’s Go Punting, who are hosting a festive singalong aboard a punt at 3pm. Snuggle under blankets and soak up the sights of an hour-long festive tour along the Backs while the choir of St John the Evangelist Church sing favourite Christmas tunes – tickets are £10 per adult and 100% of that goes to Christian Aid's work.
Cambridge Early Music presents Baroque Christmas Music from Germany and France at Great St Mary’s Church on 6 December. Featuring the Choir of Gonville & Caius College and Caius Consort, Baroque pieces for Christmas include Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit.