Christmas is just around the corner, and the BBC's television and radio religious programming this Yuletide season offers audiences a wonderful selection of festive treats. With programmes featuring live worship, traditional carols and musical celebration, conversation and reflection, there is something for everyone on the BBC this Christmas.
Christmas worship on BBC One will be broadcast live from two magnificent settings: Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve live from St Anne’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Leeds, and the Christmas Day Service live from All Saints, Fulham in London.
Songs Of Praise has four programmes celebrating the true meaning of Christmas, with an edition exploring Advent, another featuring favourite Christmas carols and two Big Sings, on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. The Christmas Big Sing features a symphony of 5,000 joyous voices raising the roof at the Royal Albert Hall and includes a performance from Katherine Jenkins. The New Year’s Eve Big Sing ushers in 2018 with performances by former Westlife star Shane Filan, soprano Mary-Jess and the boys choir, Libera.
Throughout the Advent season on BBC One, Fern Britton speaks with well-known public figures, including Paralympian Stef Reid and singer Barbara Dickson about their faith, in a brand new series of Fern Britton Meets.
BBC Two celebrates the festive season with a much-loved Christmas Eve tradition, Carols From King’s (pictured). A solo chorister sings Once In Royal David's City and heralds a glorious feast of Christmas words and music from the candlelit fan-vaulted splendour of the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge.
BBC Radio is providing listeners with an abundance of special Christmas programming this year.
Edward Stourton presents a special edition of Radio 4’s Sunday programme on Christmas Eve, where he’ll share some surprising Christmas facts from comedian Paul Kerensa. The team also join the Bishop of Manchester to find out why he’s concerned at the increasing number of homeless women. Plus there will be live music and the atmosphere live from Bethlehem’s Manger Square.
Join Ernie Rea on Beyond Belief on Christmas Day with special guests actor Simon Callow, author Claire Tomalin and Professor John Bowen - all fans of Charles Dickens and his famous festive tale A Christmas Carol.
And beautiful Christmas services with words and music to capture the wonder of the Christmas story will broadcast on Radio 3 and Radio 4 over the festive season. Midnight Mass will come live from the Metropolitan Church of Christ the King in Liverpool, led by the Archbishop of Liverpool, and on Christmas morning the service will come from the splendid atmosphere of Bath Abbey and join the choir and congregation in a festival of carol favourites, including I Saw Three Ships, O Come All Ye faithful and Hark The Herald Angels Sing.
Fatima Salaria, Commissioning Editor, Religion & Ethics, says: “The BBC’s religion output at Christmas aims to bring communities together to reflect on the true meaning of this very special time of the year. I’m delighted with the fantastic mix of traditional carols, festive music, spiritual contemplation and live worship we are offering, giving audiences a variety of opportunities to celebrate the festive season in their own personal way."
Christine Morgan, Head of Religion and Ethics, BBC Radio, says: “For many the season begins with the festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings on Christmas Eve. Then, as people around the country come together to celebrate Christmas with friends and family, BBC Radio provides the perfect accompaniment to the festivities. As ever with our rich offering of music, conversation, reflection and beautiful, live services all over Christmas, there’s something special for everyone.”
Fern Britton Meets… To mark this season of Advent, Fern Britain Meets returns for a ninth series on BBC One with special hour-long episodes in which Fern talks to high profile guests about their lives, careers and the beliefs that have shaped them.
This year’s guests include singer Gregory Porter, Paralympian Stef Reid, singer Barbara Dickson and the Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons and a chaplain to the Queen.
Series Producer, Karen Selway; Executive Producer, Dave Stanford
Songs Of Praise Advent: Preparing for Christmas, 10 December Songs of Praise explores Advent and meets a Christian couple who grow Christmas trees on their farm, which also has reindeer. We see an eight-foot pine cut down and follow it from the forest to a Devon church.
Producer/Director Mark Warburton; Researcher Jessie Bland
Songs of Praise Carols at Christmas, 17 December Songs of Praise is in Winchester’s Christmas market and finds out about the Hospital of St. Cross Almshouse. The programme’s presenters pick their favourite Christmas Carols, with candlelight carols sung at The Church of St. Cross. Producer Director Judith Sharp; Researcher Dave Collins
Songs of Praise The Christmas Big Sing, 24 December Songs of Praise celebrates Christmas in London with 5000 voices raising the roof of the Royal Albert Hall. The programme includes a performance from Katherine Jenkins. Producers Karen Hannah & Judith Sharp; Director Emyr Afan; Senior Researcher Rowena Jacobs
Midnight Mass from Leeds Cathedral, 11.45pm 24 December The traditional Christmas Eve celebration of Midnight Mass comes live from St Anne’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Leeds. The Mass is introduced by Monsignor Philip Moger, Cathedral Dean, while the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt. Rev. Marcus Stock, is the principal celebrant and will also preach.
Leeds Cathedral Choir, led by Director of Music Benjamin Saunders, sing Haydn’s joyful Saint Nicholas Mass and Leeds Trinity Cathedral Boys’ and Girls’ Choirs sing the beautiful German carol Still, Still, Still. The congregation, made up of local residents and Christmas visitors, join in well-loved carols including O Come All Ye Faithful, Unto Us Is Born A Son and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, accompanied by Cathedral organist David Pipe.
Christmas Day Service from All Saints, Fulham, 10am 25 December A traditional Christmas morning family service of Holy Communion, live from All Saints Church in Fulham, west London. Families from all generations celebrate Christmas Day, raising their voices in well-loved carols including Joy To The World, See Amid The Winter’s Snow and O Come All Ye Faithful.
The service is introduced by the vicar, the Rev. Canon Joe Hawes and the celebrant is the Rev. Penny Seabrook. Mozart’s Credo Mass in C is sung by All Saints Choir, led by Director of Music Jonathan Wikeley, with organist Matthew Burgess plus favourite children’s carol Away in a Manger is sung by the Junior All Saints Singers.
Christmas Message, 25 December A moment of peace and reflection as Christmas Day draws to a close. A reading from the Gospel of Luke about the story of the birth of Jesus is followed a well-loved Christmas carol.
Songs Of Praise The New Year’s Eve Big Sing, 31 December An audience of 5,000 sing at the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The programme features performances by former Westlife star Shane Filan, Mary-Jess and the boys’ choir Libera.
Producers Karen Hannah and Judith Sharp; Director Emyr Afan; Senior Researcher Rowena Jacobs
The Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year Message, 1 January For his New Year message, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, visits the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service and the city’s Borough Market, both affected by terror attacks in the past 12 months. Despite those tragic events of 2017 the Archbishop finds hope for the coming year.
Producer: Garry Boon; Executive Producer: Dave Stanford
Carols from King’s, 24 December This traditional and much-loved celebration of the birth of Christ is, for many, the true start of Christmas.
A solo chorister sings Once In Royal David's City and heralds a glorious feast of Christmas words and music from the candlelit fan-vaulted splendour of the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge. The world-famous choir, directed by Stephen Cleobury, sing carols old and new including the Sussex Carol (arr. Ledger), the Linden Tree Carol (arr. Cleobury), O Holy Night (arr. John Rutter), Illuminare Jerusalem (Weir), the Magi’s Dream (Whitbourn) and O Magnum Mysterium (Lauridsen). The story of Christmas is told in the words of the King James Bible and in poems by Christina Rossetti and Christopher Pilling.
Producer/Director Pamela Hossick; Producer, James Whitbourn; Executive Producer Dave Stanford
BBC Radio 2
Gospel Christmas (w/t) 25 December, 6am-8am Angie Greaves (pictured) plays a selection of Gospel greats and Christmas favourites by artists such as CeCe Winans, Donnie McClurkin, Yolanda Adams and the London Community Gospel Choir.
Good Morning Christmas, 25 December, 8am-10am In a special festive programme, The Reverend Kate Bottley says 'Good Morning Christmas!' as she celebrates Christmas morning with festive music and traditional carols to get listeners in the mood for the day ahead.
Kate Rusby joins Kate to talk about the Sheffield Carols, comedian Paul Kerensa steps up to the challenge to retell the Christmas Story in one minute, and Kate talks to three generations of one family to find out what Christmas means to them. Plus there’s specially recorded music from Radio 2’s Young Choristers Of The Year.
BBC Radio 3
Choral Evensong - Music And Readings For Advent, 24 December, 3pm-4pm Radio 3’s long-running programme, which broadcasts Evensong from around the country, presents an Advent Service. Recorded in Edington Priory Church, Wiltshire during The Edington Music Festival - A Festival Of Music Within The Liturgy, the programme includes music by Bach, Buxtehude, Byrd and Brahms.
Organ Prelude: Wir Glauben All En Einen Gott (Bach)
Chant: Ubi Caritas Et Amor (plainchant)
Reading: Matthew 25 vv.31-46
Hymn: I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say (Kingsfold)
Motet: Beati Mundo Corde (Byrd)
Reading: For The Time Being (W.H. Auden)
Chant: Rorate Coeli (plainchant)
Reading: The Communion Of Saints (Eric Milner White)
Motet: Warum Ist Das Licht Gegeben (Brahms)
Hymn: How Shall We Sing Salvation’s Song? (Llangarron)
Organ Voluntary: Toccata In F (Buxtehude)
Conducted by Jeremy Summerly and Peter Stevens Performed by Charles Maxtone-Smith, organ
A Festival Of Nine Lessons And Carols Radio 3, 25 December, 2pm-3.30pm (See Radio 4 Christmas Eve)
Choral Evensong, 27 December, 3.30pm to 4.30pm The Rodolfus Choir (pictured) a group comprised of singers aged 25 or under, perform a service recorded at St Gabriel’s Church in Pimlico, London. Choral Evensong is Radio 3’s long-running programme presenting broadcasts of Evensong services from around the country.
Performed by the Rodolfus Choir Tom Winpenny, organist Conducted by Ralph Allwood
BBC Radio 4
Beyond Belief, Monday 18 December, 4.30pm-5pm During Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, Ernie Rea takes a look at the symbolism and use of light in Judaism and other religions. He is joined by Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism; Alan Williams, Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Religion at Manchester University; and by Denis Blackledge SJ, Parish priest of the of St Francis Xavier in Liverpool.
Producer: Beena Khetani for BBC Radio 4
Beyond Belief, 25 December, 4.30pm-5.30pm Tiny Tim's "God Bless Us, Every One!" is the rousing conclusion to Charles Dickens' festive fable A Christmas Carol. But what is the Christian message behind this enduring story? Joining Ernie to discuss Charles Dickens' faith and the religious themes in his work are three fans, all of whom have written books about him: actor Simon Callow, author Claire Tomalin and John Bowen - Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of York. Producer: Helen Lee for BBC Radio 4
Sunday, Sunday 24 December, 7.10am-7.55am Edward Stourton presents a special edition of the Sunday programme on Christmas Eve.
Homelessness always comes under the spotlight at this time of year. In Manchester the Bishop of Manchester the Rt Rev David Walker explains why he is concerned about the growing number of women who have no place to live.
Following criticism of an advert for a major supermarket that showed people from other faiths celebrating Christmas, the programme goes into the homes of three non-Christian families to hear what they get up to on the 25 December.
There will also be live music in the studio, some surprising yuletide facts from the writer and comedian Paul Kerensa, and the chance to soak up the atmosphere in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, as Christians worldwide prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Producer: Amanda Hancox for BBC Radio 4
Sunday, Sunday 31 December, 7.10am-7.55am William Crawley looks back at the big religious and ethical stories of 2017 and talks to a multi-faith panel about the religious issues likely to make the headlines in 2018. He’ll hear from the philosopher Onora O’Neill about some of the moral challenges we face.
And, as people around the world begin to welcome in the New Year, Trevor Barnes talks to religious communities in Britain who celebrate New Year more than once a year because of their religious calendars.
Producer: Amanda Hancox for BBC Radio 4
Thought For The Day, Saturday 16 December-Monday 1 January 2018, 7.50am-8am Featuring:
Saturday 16 - Dr. Chetna Kang, a Priest in the Hindu tradition of Bhakti Yoga
Monday 18 - Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies, New College, University of Edinburgh
Tuesday 19 - John Bell of the Iona Community
Wednesday 20 - Rev Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James's Church, Piccadilly
Thursday 21 - Rev Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields
Monday 1 January - Rev Giles Fraser, Priest-in-charge of St Mary, Newington
Sunday Worship, Sunday 24 December, 8.10am-8.50am A service from the chapel of Methodist College Belfast with seasonal readings, favourite carols and Christmas hymns sung by the renowned choir of the College.
Producer: Ben Collingwood for BBC Radio 4
A Festival Of Nine Lessons And Carols, 24 December, 3pm-4.30pm (repeated on Radio 3, Christmas Day at 2pm-3.30pm) For many around the world, A Festival Of Nine Lessons And Carols, live from the candlelit Chapel of King's College, Cambridge (pictured), marks the beginning of Christmas. It is based around nine Bible readings which tell the story of the loving purposes of God, interspersed with carols old and new sung by the world-famous chapel choir who also lead the congregation in traditional Christmas hymns.
King’s College Choir has performed a newly written carol at the famous Christmas Eve service A Festival Of Nine Lessons And Carols every Christmas since 1983. This year’s carol - the 35th carol commissioned by King’s for the Festival - is by Welsh composer Huw Watkins, who studied at King’s as an undergraduate and is now Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music.
The carol, which will be heard in public for the first time on Christmas Eve this year, is a setting of part of the Welsh Plygain Carol, Carol Eliseus, chosen by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Hymn: Once In Royal David's City (desc. Cleobury)
Bidding Prayer read by the Dean
In The Bleak Mid-Winter (Darke)
First lesson: Genesis 3 vv 8-19 read by a Chorister
Adam’s Fall (Richard Elfyn Jones)
Love Came Down At Christmas (Morris Arr. Cleobury)
Second lesson: Genesis 22 vv 15-18 read by a Choral Scholar
How Shall I Fitly Meet Thee? (J.S. Bach)
I Saw Three Ships (Arr. Ledger)
Third lesson: Isaiah 9 vv 2, 6-7 read by a representative of the Cambridge Churches
Illuminare, Jerusalem (Judith Weir)
O Little Town Of Bethlehem (Arr. Cleobury)
Fourth lesson: Isaiah 11 vv 1-3a, 4a, 6-9 read by the Chaplain
A Spotless Rose (Howells)
The Lamb (Tavener)
Fifth lesson: Luke 1 vv 26-38 read by a member of College staff
Gabriel’s Message (Arr. Pettman)
The Linden Tree Carol (Arr. Cleobury)
Sixth lesson: Luke 2 vv 1-7 read by a representative of the City of Cambridge
Carol Eliseus (Huw Watkins - Commission (world premiere))
Away In A Manger (Arr. Willcocks)
Seventh lesson: Luke 2 vv 8-16 read by the Director of Music
Can I Not Syng But Hoy? (Francis Jackson)
God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen (Arr. Willcocks)
Eighth lesson: Matthew 2 vv 1-12 read by the Vice-Provost
We Three Kings Of Orient Are (Arr. Neary)
The Magi’s Dream (Whitbourn)
Ninth lesson: John 1 vv 1-14 read by the Provost
O Come, All Ye Faithful (Arr. Willcocks)
Collect and Blessing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (desc. Cleobury)
Organ voluntaries: In Dulci Jubilo (BWV 729) (Bach) Prelude and Fugue in B major (Dupré) [broadcast on Radio 3 on Christmas Day only]
Director of Music: Stephen Cleobury Organ scholar: Henry Websdale
Composer Huw Watkins says: “I was particularly delighted to have been asked to write this year's new carol, having been an undergraduate at King's in the 90s. As a non-Welsh-speaking Welshman, I was also thrilled and slightly daunted when Stephen Cleobury suggested a Welsh text. My mother (a native speaker) has helped me with the sounds and stresses of the words, and I feel like setting this language has unlocked an indefinable Welshness in my music. I wanted to write something pure and somehow artless, and all the time I've had that glorious acoustic in my head.”
The carol continues a tradition dating back to the beginning of Stephen Cleobury’s tenure as Director of Music at King’s, and is part of a long-standing contribution by the College to contemporary choral writing. Commissioned carols from previous years have included Judith Weir’s Illuminare, Jerusalem and John Rutter’s What Sweeter Music, as well as compositions by Jonathan Dove, Judith Bingham, John Tavener, Tansy Davies and many others.
Producer: Philip Billson for BBC Radio 4
Midnight Mass, 24 December, 11.30pm-12.45am Coming live from the beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool as its Golden Jubilee year draws to a close.
The setting is Missa Ad Praesepe (Mass of the crib), by George Malcolm and among the carols and anthems is the beautiful Serenity (O magnum mysterium) by Ola Gjeilo, as well as seasonal favourites such as O Come All Ye faithful, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, Silent Night and Hark The Herald Angels Sing. The Celebrant and preacher is The Archbishop of Liverpool, The Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon.
Producer: Philip Billson for BBC Radio 4
Christmas Service, 25 December, 9am-9.45am A Service for Christmas Morning from Bath Abbey.
As households across the world enjoy entertaining guests, we consider what it means to be the manager of a prestigious hotel at this time of year. And what’s it like to be a guest? Whether alone or with a crowd on Christmas Day, our service on Christmas morning service explores being a host to the Christ-child and responding to his invitation to be a guest.
With The Reverend Edward Mason and the choir of Bath Abbey directed by Huw Williams, we’ll hear traditional readings and carol favourites including I Saw Three Ships, O Come All Ye faithful and Hark The Herald Angels Sing.
Producer: Benjamin Collingwood for BBC Radio 4
Christmas Meditation, 26 December, 12.15am-12.30am A reflection to bring Christmas Night to a close from Sarah Teather, Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK. This personal reflection from the former Westminster MP draws on the sights and sounds of Christmas and stories from her current work accompanying refugees.
Producer: Garry Boon for BBC Radio 4
Prayer for the Day, Saturday 23 December and Monday 25 December-Friday 29 December, 5.43am-5.45am Presented by the Bishop of Dorking Dr Jo Bailey Wells.
The Daily Service, Tuesday26 December-Friday 29 December, 9.45am-10am, Radio 4 LW During the Christmas festivities the Daily Service will explore the central themes of the nativity through poetry and music. Each broadcast will include favourite Christmas poems and carols.
The first week of 2018 will see the Daily Service mark its 90th Anniversary with special services reflecting on the history of the programme and its place in the world today.
Sunday Worship, Sunday 31 December, 8.10am-8.50am The former Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones reflects on the past year and looks forward to the next. As Chair of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, Bishop James led what is widely recognised as the most successful inquiry of its type in recent times.