Christmas tradition and worship from BBC Religion & Ethics
This Christmas the BBC will explore two of the best loved
traditions of Christmas in two major documentaries for BBC Two, The Truth About Carols and The Star Of Bethlehem – Behind The
Myth which uncovers new evidence to support the view that the
description of the Star of Bethlehem in St Matthew's Gospel was
based upon a real event.
Sir Cliff Richard talks to Sally
Magnusson about how his faith has shaped his five decades in
showbiz in a special one-hour festive edition of Songs Of Praise.
Plus, there will be a chance to hear the very best traditional
Christmas music from the quiet splendour of King's College
Cambridge for A Festival Of Nine Lessons And Carols, and the
joyous celebration of the Songs Of Praise Christmas Big Sing from London's Royal Albert Hall.
There is nothing more comforting and evocative than a
traditional carol sung by an angelic choir at Christmas. Or so
you would think.
In The Truth About Carols, composer Howard
Goodall uncovers the often turbulent and uncomfortable
relationship between carols and the celebration of Christmas.
Though they have been around since the 12th century, carols have
only been a feature of church services for the last 150 years.
For centuries the Church tried to keep carols out, believing
them to be pagan or of no value, because they were written by
Carols have been used as secret codes, saved from
the brink of extinction and been the subject of state
The carols we sing seem set in stone and yet they
can have more than 400 regional variations. Their roots are in
dance, in folk culture, street theatre and in pre-Christian
religion; and yet they've ended up as the quintessential
expression of the Christmas story.
Throughout the programme, there are a variety of performances –
including folk star Bella Hardy singing the medieval Coventry
Carol; the Purbeck Village Choir performing the carols of 18th
century England and the Truro Cathedral Choir recreating the
very first service of Nine Lessons and Carols.
In Star Of Bethlehem - Behind The Myth, produced by Atlantic
Productions, new developments in technology are allowing
scientists, astronomers and historians to map the night skies of
the ancient world with extraordinary accuracy.
As they study the
movements of the planets and stars around the time of the birth
of Christ, could the star of Bethlehem have been a triple
conjunction of planets, an occultation of Jupiter and Saturn, or
even a supernova?
Christmas preparations start on BBC One on the first Sunday in
Advent with Christmas Voices, an hour-long programme of
inspirational song, chat and debate presented by Lesley Garrett.
Songs Of Praise will prepare for the season with four special
The first on Saint Andrew's Day (30
November) comes from Linlithgow, birthplace of Mary Queen of
The second is a special programme celebrating Sir Cliff
Richard's 50 years in show business. Cliff talks to Sally
Magnusson about his faith, work and life over the past five
Recorded in front of an invited audience representing
the charities he has supported throughout his career, Sir Cliff describes how his
attitude towards others has changed, and how he likes to remain
There will also be a chance to listen to some of his
On the third Sunday of Advent Ruthie Henshall joins Aled Jones at the Royal Albert Hall in front of a packed auditorium of Songs
Of Praise viewers who raise the roof in A Christmas Big Sing.
the Sunday before Christmas there is a traditional carols by
candlelight from Shrewsbury.
For many people Christmas truly begins on Christmas Eve as a
lone choir boy sings the first verse of Once In Royal David's
City in the candle-lit splendour of the chapel of King's College
The choir sing carols old and new and the story of
Christmas is told in the words of the King James Bible. Carols
From King's is broadcast on BBC Two.
BBC Radio will be at the centre of programming this Christmas
starting on BBC Radio 3 on 30 November, A Service For Advent
With Carols live from the Chapel of St John's College Cambridge.
Every year cathedrals and collegiate churches up and
down the land are packed for this special service of words from
scripture, and music, giving a foretaste of Christmas.
most renowned of all is this Advent Carol service live from St
John's College Cambridge.
Highlights this year include the
anthem by James MacMillan: A New Song; John Gardner's Tomorrow
Shall Be My Dancing Day; and John Stainer's How Beautiful Upon
BBC One broadcasts the first Eucharist of Christmas live from
Peterborough Cathedral, celebrated by the Bishop of Peterbrough,
the Right Rev Ian Cundy.
The Cathedral will also be the setting
for the Christmas Day Eucharist celebrated by the Dean, the Very
Rev Charles Taylor.
Radio 3 will also present A Meditation On Christ's Nativity with the choir of Clare College, Cambridge, a service of music
and readings including the first broadcast performance of Ex
Maria Virgine - a sequence of Christmas carols by John Tavener
completed on Christmas Day 2005.
Live from Lancing College, Sussex – the very institution which
commissioned the work 60 years ago and the location of its
world premiere – the BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Singers and
Choristers of St Paul's Cathedral perform Benjamin Britten's
Cantata St Nicolas, conducted by Paul Brough.
St Nicolas presents a series of legendary incidents in the life
of Nicolas, patron saint of children, sailors, and travellers.
The part of Nicolas is sung by solo tenor – originally Peter
Pears, Britten's long-term lover, a former pupil of Lancing
College, and later a member of the BBC Singers – but here Andrew
Kennedy - while the choirs transform themselves into various
contrasting characters during the drama and relate the
adventures with the conviction of eye-witnesses while tying the
story together with their prayers and praise.
The concert also includes Britten's Ceremony Of Carols,
originally composed for the boys of Westminster Cathedral – and
a wonderful vehicle in tonight's performance for the Choristers
of St Paul's Cathedral – and Herbert Howells' popular carol-anthems, performed by the BBC Singers, which include the gently
lyrical A Spotless Rose and Here Is the Little Door.
During the interval of this live broadcast, Louise Fryer
presents Twenty Minutes, which explores the story of how
Britten's St Nicolas came to be written.
The piece was
commissioned to celebrate the centenary of Lancing College and
this documentary feature uses Britten's letters and other
archival materials, and talks to some of the surviving members
of the first performance, to hear more about this remarkable
piece and the effect it had on those who first performed it.
The performance of St Nicolas will be filmed in high quality
vision so music lovers can watch as well as hear the concert at
It will also be the first Red Button offering
for television from Radio 3.
Joan Bakewell explores areas of belief with artists, thinkers
and other public figures in Belief, a returning series of
programmes for Radio 3.
In a society where the arena of
belief has become increasingly personal and subjective, religion
remains a significant influence in society.
explores in conversation with her guests the influences that
have shaped them, the ideas they have about life's big questions
and how what they believe affects both their personal and
Confirmed guests include Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, Abdal Hakim
Murad, Muslim Chaplain of Cambridge University, author Marina
Warner, writer and columnist AN Wilson and Rabbi Tony Bayfield.
On Sunday 21 December, on BBC Radio 2, Sunday Half Hour invites
listeners to join Brian D'Arcy and Methodist College choirs at
the Belfast Fisherwick Presbyterian Church for a programme
featuring well-loved and traditional carols and Bible readings
telling the nativity story.
And on Christmas Eve, in Carols By
Candlelight, Aled Jones presents the Chapter House Choir of York
Minster, directed by Stephen Williams, performing Christmas
music, old and new, from the Gothic surrounds of York Minster's
13th Century Chapter House.
And Aled will also be on hand to
welcome in Christmas Day with Good Morning Christmas Live.
BBC Radio 4's Christmas offering starts on Christmas Eve with A
Festival Of Nine Lessons & Carols live from the Chapel of King's
Ninety years ago, shortly after the end of
the First World War, the then Dean of King's, Eric Milner-White,
devised and led the service in the College Chapel for the first
Ten years later, in 1928, it was first transmitted by the
The first Mass Of Christmas will be broadcast live on Radio 4
from the spectacular setting of Liverpool Metropolitan
As Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture
draws to a close, Christmas carols ring out from the iconic
Catholic cathedral as the choir and congregation assemble to
celebrate the traditional service of Midnight Mass for the Feast
In his homily, the Archbishop of Liverpool,
Most Rev Patrick Kelly, will explore how the birth of a
baby into poverty and fear 2,000 years ago could have
significance to our lives in the 21st century.
The Christmas Service will come from Bath Abbey.
The fine choir
of Bath Abbey under the direction of Dr Peter King are joined by
a packed congregation for a wealth of Christmas
carols old and new, at this special service of word, music and
In God And The Movies, Richard Coles investigates the religious phenomena sweeping through Hollywood – as big studios place
solid and sometimes explicit Christian theology at the centre of some of the biggest blockbusters.
The Sony Award-winning series Beyond Belief returns to Radio
4 in December, launching a new series of programmes exploring
the place of faith in today's complex world.
Ernie Rea is joined
every week by three guests who discuss how their particular
religious tradition affects their values and way of looking at
the world, often revealing hidden and contradictory truths.