Katy Birchall takes a look at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge, and picks out some more of the best Christmas choir services across the country.

Over the course of a century, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge has become a beloved Christmas tradition. There is nothing quite like that moment of stillness as the angelic voice of a treble soloist echoes through the chapel to millions around the world.

First held on Christmas Eve 1918, the service was introduced by the newly appointed Dean of King’s, Eric Milner-White, who had served as an army chaplain on the Western Front and in Italy. That the service first took place so soon after the end of the First World War was no accident – like so many, The Very Rev Eric Milner-White returned home traumatised by the ‘indescribable, unimaginable’ horrors of the trenches. He believed that, for religion to have a place in people’s lives after such suffering, worship would need a more imaginative approach.

Perhaps most moving are the poignant words of his beautiful bidding prayer, first spoken just six weeks after the Armistice: ‘Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one.’

The service, broadcast on Radio 4 at 3pm, is free to attend—the queue begins to form the day before and doors open at 1.30pm – see www.kings.cam.ac.uk for more details.

There are plenty of opportunities to hear cathedral choirs perform all over Britain. Here are the key dates; they’re free to attend, unless otherwise indicated:

Bristol

December 16, 3.30pm, family carol service. December 23, 6pm, and December 24, 3.30pm – 0117–926 4879; www.bristol-cathedral.co.uk

Canterbury

December 23 and 24, 3pm (doors open 1.30pm), first-come, first-seated – 01227 762862; www.canterbury-cathedral.org

Carlisle

December 23, 3pm, and December 24, 6.30pm – 01228 548151; www.carlislecathedral.org.uk

Chester

December 23, 6.30pm, and December 24, 3pm – 01244 324756; www.chestercathedral.com

Chichester

December 20 and 21, 6pm, and December 22, 3pm. This year, for the first time, all three services will not be ticketed and seats in the nave will be available on a first-come, first-served basis – 01243 782595; www.chichestercathedral.org.uk

Coventry

December 16, 6.30pm – 024–7652 1200; www.coventrycathedral.org.uk

Durham

December 22, 7pm, and December 24, 3pm – 0191–386 4266; www.durhamcathedral.co.uk

Edinburgh

December 22 and 24, 7.30pm – 0131–225 6293; www.cathedral.net

Ely

December 23 and 24, 6pm – 01353 667735; www.elycathedral.org

Exeter

December 6 and 8, 7pm, ticketed, doors open 6.15pm – 01392 255573; www.exeter-cathedral.org.uk

Gloucester

December 23 and 24, 6pm – 01452 528095; www.gloucestercathedral.org.uk

Guildford

December 23, 6pm – 01483 547860; www.guildford-cathedral.org

Hereford

December 22 and 23, 7pm, ticketed – download a form from the website and return by hand or post – 01432 374200; www.herefordcathedral.org

Isle of Man

December 2, 3.30pm, Procession of Light and December 16, 3pm – 01624 844830; www.cathedral.im

Lichfield

December 23 and 24, 6pm – 01543 306100; www.lichfield-cathedral.org

Liverpool

December 22 and 23, 3pm – 0151–702 7217; www.liverpoolcathedral.org.uk

Manchester

December 22, 7.30pm, register attendance online – 0161–833 2220; www.manchestercathedral.org

Newcastle

December 24, 6pm – 0191–232 1939; www.stnicholascathedral.co.uk

Norwich

December 16, 3.30pm, December 23, 6pm, and December 24, 3.30pm, Christmas procession with carols – 01603 218300; www.cathedral.org.uk

Peterborough

December 20, 1pm – 01733 355315; www.peterborough-cathedral.org.uk

Ripon

December 23 and 24, 5.30pm – 01765 603462; www.riponcathedral.info

St Davids

December 22, 7pm. Doors open at 5.45pm, no admittance after 6.55pm – 01437 720202; www.stdavidscathedral.org.uk

St Paul’s

December 23 and 24, 4pm – 020–7246 8350; www.stpauls.co.uk

Salisbury

December 22, 7pm, and December 23, 5pm – 01722 555120; www.salisburycathedral.org.uk

Sheffield

December 19, 8pm – 0114–275 3434; www.sheffieldcathedral.org

Truro

December 23 and 24, 7pm – 01872 276782; www.trurocathedral.org.uk

Wakefield

December 23, 3.30pm – 01924 373923; www.wakefieldcathedral.org.uk

Wells

December 22 and 23, 6pm – 01749 674483; www.wellscathedral.org.uk

Winchester

December 18 (ticketed), 19 and 21, 6.30pm – 01962 857200; www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk

York Minster

December 13 and 14, 7pm, Christmas carol concerts, ticketed. December 23 and 24, 4pm – 01904 557200; www.yorkminster.org