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‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ … in the South of France

December 11th, 2016 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, France, Languedoc


Another Christmas season overseas, another British-themed Christmas service, my seventh in eight years.

We have done enough of these now that I even know the music to “Once in Royal David’s City”, which apparently starts every British Christmas service — at least among Protestants.

In Abu Dhabi, the Anglican events tended to follow the regular order of service, with carols and candlelight employed for the final stages. And was done on Christmas Eve.

In the south of France, where British expats are numerous and perhaps more traditional, they seem to prefer the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, which was popularized in the Anglican church, starting at Cambridge, in the latter stages of the 19th century. Even now, the BBC broadcasts it, via radio, from Cambridge on Christmas Eve.

What the “Nine Lessons” does is focus the service on nine Biblical readings pertaining to Jesus’s birth … with lots of carols worked in and around the readings.

Turns out, the old familiar words of Isaiah and Luke and traditional carols are the bits worshipers seem to be most interested in, this time of year.

And they were interested. The service this afternoon, in a large Catholic church at a nearby town, drew a standing-room-only crowd of 250-plus.

The title of the service seems to suggest the carols also will number seven, but at this one they numbered 11.

(And I still don’t know several of them. “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” and a French one (a nod toward the handful of francophones in the sanctuary) … and they use “the wrong” tune for “Little Town of Bethlehem” As I have noted in the past, you would think the British and Americans would have pretty much the same Christmas carols, and you would be wrong.)

Added special attractions included …

–An accomplished organist who did a prelude, a postlude, a mid-service solo take on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and set up each carol.

–A choir of about 15 who strove to project sound throughout a very large venue.

–Mince pies and a glass of wine, after the 90-minute service was complete.

The number of worshipers got my attention. I had seen the local church before, and knew it would seem empty if “only” 100 people showed up.

That extra chairs had to be arranged at the back of the nave, to accommodate the crowd … well, that would suggest the “Nine Lessons” format is a popular one, and also tells us that this part of France has lots and lots of Britons, most of them English, most of them retired.

I am still on the lookout for a Christmas Eve service somewhere in the area. It seems as if most of the anglophone Christmas services here will be finished by next weekend — perhaps so all the Brits can go back to England for Christmas and Boxing Day.



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