Nine Lessons and Carols, also known as the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols and Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, is a service of Christian worship traditionally celebrated on or near Christmas Eve. The story of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus is told in nine Bible readings from Genesis, the prophetic books and the Gospels, interspersed with the singing of Christmas carols, hymns and choir anthems.
Although the tradition of Nine Lessons and Carols is popularly associated with King's College, Cambridge, its origins are attributed to Truro Cathedral in Cornwall, England. Up to the late 19th century, the singing of Christmas carols was normally performed in by singers visiting people's houses, and carols — generally considered to be secular in content — had been excluded from Christian worship. In the Victorian era, the rising popularity of hymnody encouraged church musicians to introduce carols into worship.
The first Nine Lessons and Carols service took place in the temporary wooden structure that served as Pro-Cathedral for Truro at 10:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve 1880 and was attended by over 400 people.
Bishop Benson, the Bishop of Truro, was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1883, and the Nine Lessons service began to gain in popularity across the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion. The original liturgy has since been adapted and used by other churches all over the world.
Notably in 1918, the new Dean of King's College, Cambridge introduced the service to the college chapel. It proved highly successful, and began an annual tradition — albeit with some alterations to Benson's original format from 1919 onwards. The BBC began to broadcast the service on radio from 1928 and on television from 1954, establishing Carols from King's as the most popular and widely recognized presentation of the service.
In December 2013, Truro Cathedral staged a reconstruction of Bishop Benson's original 1880 Nine Lessons with Carols Service which was attended by an audience of over 1,500 people.