Although Christmastide doesn't officially begin until the evening of December 24, Christmas begins to blend into Advent beginning the second week of December, as follows:
- Handel's Messiah is performed by the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys alongside Concert Royal on December 9 and December 11 at 7:30pm. These are ticketed concerts.
- The Saint Thomas Youth perform a pageant, A Medieval Christmas, on Sunday, December 14 at 1pm.
- Five different services of Lessons and Carols are offered beginning December 17. See more below.
- Britten's Ceremony of Carols and Rutter's Dancing Day are performed by the choristers of the Saint Thomas Choir on December 18 at 5:30pm. This is a ticketed event.
- The Solemn Eucharist of the Nativity is on Christmas Eve at 11pm and Christmas Day at 11am. See more below.
At Saint Thomas, we offer variations of Lessons & Carols at five services from December 17 through December 24. The version on Sunday, December 21 is the primary one, and the original. We offer it twice, at 11am (which is followed by Holy Communion) and at 4pm (not followed by Holy Communion):
- A Service of Christmas Lessons and Carols, Wednesday, December 17, at 12:10pm and Saturday, December 20, at 4pm. Music of Ledger, Ord, Davies, Howells, and Martin; plus favorite carols and hymns.
- A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, Sunday, December 21, at 11am and 4pm. Music of Willcocks, Ledger, Tavener, Scott, Cleobury, Pearsall, Mathias, and Pettman; plus favorite carols and hymns.
- A Service of Lessons and Carols and the Blessing of the Creche, Wednesday, December 24 at 4pm. Works of Archer, Rutter, Hadley, and Matthias; plus favorite carols and hymns.
The December 21 version is called A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols, which is a format designed by Edward White Benson (who later became Archbishop of Canterbury). Nine lessons are interspersed among the carols and motets sung by the choir, and the carols and hymns sung by the congregation. The lessons cover the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus. The nine lessons are read by nine representatives of our parish: a Chorister, a Member of the Sunday School, a Gentleman of the Choir, the Director of Music, the Headmaster of the Choir School, a Member of the Congregation, a Warden of the Parish, a Priest of the Parish, and finally the Rector. The services are among the best attended of the year, but in past years there have always been enough seats for all who have wanted to attend. We advise arriving early for the best seats.
We also offer a shorter version, simply called A Service of Christmas Lessons & Carols. The format is similar, but is designed to last less than an hour. It includes five lessons and fewer carols and motets—shorter yes, but packing a lot of power. These services are offered on Wednesday, December 17 at 12:10pm and Saturday, December 20 at 4pm. These are popular, but there should be enough seats for everyone.
Finally, a third version of this service is on Christmas Eve at 4pm. It is called Lessons & Carols and the Blessing of the Creche. It includes five lessons, as well as carols and motets sung by the choir, and is ideal for those with young children, since children are invited by the Rector to come and sit near the steps of the chancel, near the creche, midway through the service. No tickets are necessary for this service, but in recent years it has become very popular, so those who arrive by 3:30pm get better seats (the doors open at 3pm). This service is also an excellent alternative for those who do not want to stand in long lines for the 11pm service on Christmas Eve.
Whichever Lessons & Carols service appeals to you, we hope you come. The service is one of the great glories of the Anglican choral tradition, and you will be glad you took part.
The Christmas Collect in the Book of Common Prayer says it all: Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
Please join us on Christmas Eve at 11pm or Christmas Morning at 11am. Please be aware that the church will likely be full to capacity for both services (see below). In both cases, there are processions with incense, singing by the full Saint Thomas Choir of Men & Boys, and an opportunity to make your Holy Communion. And both services, as well as all the choral services throughout the season, will be webcast live, and available on demand for many weeks following. So whether you are with us in person, or via webcast, you are most welcome to take part. O come, let us adore him.
About Christmas Eve Seating
More than ten years ago, Saint Thomas Church instituted a policy of distributing tickets (two in number) for the Christmas Eve 11pm Eucharist to members making pledges in support of the Every Member Canvass. Those members of record who have made pledges in good faith to the 2015 canvass will receive a pair of Christmas Eve tickets for the 2014 11pm Solemn Eucharist of the Nativity. These tickets are given in gratitude to our yearly supporters who help to make worship at Saint Thomas Church possible 365 days a year. This is the only service of the year for which tickets are issued.
However, even if you don’t have tickets, you can still attend on Christmas Eve at 11pm if you are willing to stand in line. Those who do not have tickets line up at the Fifth Avenue entrance to the church. The Fifth Avenue doors open at 10pm, and there is always room for many hundreds of people from this line. We hope that everyone who wants to worship with us will come. If you are concerned about the long lines on Christmas Eve, which in past years have begun to form around 9:30pm, we invite you to come on Christmas Day. Like the 11pm Christmas Eve service, the Christmas Day 11am service is sung by the full Choir of Men and Boys, and the service is glorious. As another alternative, you might consider the Service of Lessons & Carols and the Blessing of the Crèche at 4pm on Christmas Eve, especially if you have young children.