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Advent and Christmas festivities start this weekend at Durham Cathedral

As Christmas draws nearer, Durham Cathedral is inviting people to experience the joy of the festive season with a programme of special services, concerts and events, in celebration of the birth of Christ starting from 26 November.

Visiting the cathedral for Advent and Christmas is part of many people’s annual tradition and this year services start on Saturday 26 November, 6pm, with the Advent Procession by Candlelight (repeated at the same time on 27 November) and officially marks the start of advent. These special, atmospheric services feature the theatrical procession of choir and clergy in the darkness, with only flickering candlelight illuminating their way.

On Wednesday 30 November at 7.30pm a special NHS Carol Service will take place, with a performance from an NHS choir created especially for this event. Join NHS staff - past and present – along with family and friends as this special choir sing lead the congregational singing of traditional carols, share readings and give a Christmas message.

Durham City Christmas Festival then begins on Friday 2 December running until 4 December providing the opportunity for people to purchase local produce and artisan goods in the unique setting of the cathedral cloister. Those visiting on Saturday can join a Carols for All sing-a-long service at 11am and 2pm, and visitors on Sunday can join in for festive carols at 2pm.

On 10 December, 7.30pm, Tidings of Joy: Christmas with the Choirs of Durham Cathedral will see all three of the cathedral choirs perform a concert of festive classics, encouraging the audience to sing along. Actors Charlie Hardwick of Emmerdale and Joe Caffrey of Billy Elliot the Musical will help tell the story of Christmas in words and music, entertaining the audience with show-stopping rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas intermingled with John Julius Norwich’s hilarious ‘thank you’ letters from Emily to Edward in response to receiving everything from the partridge in a pear tree to the 12 drummers! Tickets cost £5-£25 and funds from ticket sales go back to supporting music at Durham Cathedral.

Family visitors can get creative with drop-in Christmas activities inside the cathedral on the weekends of 10, 17 and 23 December. Visitors can follow a trail to explore the cathedral’s connections to Saint Bede and create artwork using Durham Cathedral’s unique collections of treasures as inspiration. The trail and craft activities are free but donations are welcome. The ever popular Lighting of the Tree and Blessing of the Crib takes place on 11 December at 3:30pm.

This special service is the chance to witness the magical moment that the 26 ft tall Norwegian Spruce tree is illuminated for the first time. While everyone is welcome at all services, this is one in particular that will get families and children into the Christmas spirit. The holiday season can be a difficult time for those missing friends and family members. The special St Cuthbert’s Hospice service on 11 December at 7pm, welcomes people to Light up the Life of someone in need by making a donation in memory of a loved one. The names of those being remembered will be entered into a book of remembrance and dedicated at this service.

On 15 December at 8pm, the cathedral will play host to a star-studded line up concert, Carols of Light, to raise vital funds for the Foundation of Light charity. The festive concert will feature a range of readings and musical performances. Experience West End stars and live musicians perform popular Christmas songs at the matinee performance of Christmas by Candlelight. Sing-along to hits and carols including ‘White Christmas’ and ‘O Holy Night’ on Tuesday 20 December at 2.30pm. Treat the family to a special screening of The Snowman, accompanied with a live orchestra on 21 December, with performances at 1.30pm, 4pm and 6pm. Watch some of the UK’s finest musicians bring The Snowman to life and see the new Shaun the Sheep film, The Flight Before Christmas too.

The festivities continue with the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on 22 December at 6pm (repeated on 24 December 3pm). This traditional service heralding the birth of Christ always starts in darkness with a solo chorister singing the first verse of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’.

On Christmas Eve, the cathedral delivers a special midnight Eucharist at 11pm. Music will be sung by the adults of the cathedral choir, with prayer and Holy Communion taking the congregation into the early hours of Christmas Day. On Christmas Day itself, services begin with Holy Communion at 8am, Morning Prayer at 8:30am, Matins at 10am, Sung Eucharist at 11.15am, finishing with Evensong at 3.30pm.

The cathedral also plays host to a number of rousing carol services from local community groups, schools and organisations throughout November and December. This may mean at times visitor access to the cathedral will be restricted. Visitors are advised to check the website before travelling to avoid disappointment.

Many of the services are very popular, and it is recommended to arrive at the cathedral early to guarantee a seat. There is no admission charge to enter the cathedral. To help support the work of the cathedral and the care of its buildings for future generations a £5 donation is encouraged.

For more information about visiting the cathedral and attending special services and events visit:


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