The Festival of Lessons & Carols is a worship service of scripture readings or lessons from the Bible interspersed with the singing of Christmas carols. Originally, carols were music written for a choir. Within the worship service, hymns were written to allow the congregation to participate in the service.
The first Festival of Lessons and Carols was held on Christmas Eve in 1918 in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, England. It was planned by the Dean of the chapel, The Reverend Eric Milner-White. A revision of the Order of Service was made in 1919, involving rearrangement of the lessons, and from this date on, the service has always begun with the hymn Once in Royal David’s City.
The carols vary each year, but the lessons are fairly fixed. The first lesson introduces how mankind disobeyed God - followed by lessons telling of the forthcoming and birth of Christ. Culminating with the last lesson, from John, the Word made flesh – Christ being born - brings the story full circle. The cross is really the key to understanding Christmas, and it is the source of its power. Jesus is God with us, and He had to be with us in the flesh, so He could save us from our sins. Thus the cross is already present - even at His birth. Wherever the service is heard and however it is adapted, the pattern and strength of the service derives from the lessons and not the music. The main theme is the loving purpose of God.
As a school community, Advent Episcopal School continues this tradition of celebrating God's love and grace. This year we will be presenting our 51st Annual Festival Services of Lessons and Carols. All of our students, Pre-K- 8th grade, participate in the service. There are many recognizable carols, including Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, and God Rest You Merry Gentlemen. Our favorite is O, Holy Night. This carol, unique to our school, is also sung in French. Our students begin learning French in Pre-K and continue until they leave after 8th grade. During the singing, all former Advent students are invited to participate.