Christmas religious programming on the BBC

As we face a very different Christmas than usual, the BBC is connecting audiences with a selection of religious content that recognises and reflects on the challenges of the year we have had as well as providing live worship, traditional carols and musical celebration over the festive season

"I hope our religious content this Christmas will give audiences an opportunity to reflect on the year that has gone as well as inspiring and uplifting them with a wonderful mix of traditional carols, festive music, spiritual contemplation and live music across television and radio" — Charlotte Moore



The Christmas Like No Other project looks back on a difficult year and shares stories of grief, hope and compassion through the Christian faith, other faiths and people of no faith. There will be content across news and digital including coverage of a special Evensong from St Paul’s Cathedral, featuring the lighting of the dome in yellow to reflect the Good Grief campaign.

Whilst church services are limited at the moment, Sunday Worship returns on Advent Sunday (29 November) for six weeks on BBC One with services from across the UK.

Also marking Advent on BBC One, Ellie Harrison and Angellica Bell uncover local customs, culture and traditions as they celebrate A Very Country Christmas.

On the final Sunday in Advent, Songs of Praise's UK's Favourite Carol comes from the glorious surroundings of St Paul’s Cathedral in London with performances from an array of stars including Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli.

This year sees the launch of the first joint BBC Radio 2 and Songs of Praise Young Chorister of the Year 2020 competition. From Gorton Monastery in Manchester, the Revd Kate Bottley with Katherine Jenkins and Aled Jones host the search for the best young singers in the country.

There will be live services for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on BBC One as well as the much-loved Carols From King’s on BBC Two.

Radio 4 will broadcast live the yearly Nine Lessons And Carols from King’s College Cambridge, as well as Midnight Mass later in the evening. On Christmas Day listeners can join in a Christmas Service from their homes, recorded at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London.

There will be seasonal reflections and music on BBC Scotland, BBC Wales and BBC Northern Ireland and church services continue every Sunday at 8am across all 39 local radio station, including a Christmas service featuring the new Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell on Sunday 20 December and a festive service on Christmas Day from the Salvation Army with carols and readings.

Charlotte Moore, BBC Chief Content Officer, says: “This year has been a particularly difficult one for many of us and it’s crucial that the BBC helps to bring people together and connect audiences across the UK to mark this special time of year. I hope our religious content this Christmas will give audiences an opportunity to reflect on the year that has gone as well as inspiring and uplifting them with a wonderful mix of traditional carols, festive music, spiritual contemplation and live music across television and radio.”

The Christmas Like No Other project

The Christmas Like No Other project brings content together across news and digital to share stories of grief, hope and compassion. As part of National Grief Awareness Week (2-8 December) messages from faith leaders will be shared and there will be coverage of a special Evensong from St Paul’s Cathedral on 8 December including the lighting of the dome in yellow to reflect the Good Grief Campaign. There will also be special news reports from around the nations and regions and memorial material on digital.


A Very Country Christmas

To mark Advent 2020, Cotswold farmer and naturalist Ellie Harrison, along with city-based broadcaster and Christmas-enthusiast, Angellica Bell, will celebrate three very different country Christmases. They'll be joining in the making, shaping, gathering and worshipping of three beautiful and distinct regions of Britain as they prepare for their North Eastern, South Western and Scottish Christmases.

Advent across the UK is a month-long festivity leading, for many, to a very special Christmas celebration. However, what’s amazing about this ancient period - known as the coming - are the different ways we prepare according to local customs, culture and traditions.

From a mining based Christmas Crib in Durham to the Cornish cathedral where Nine Lessons and Carols started in order to empty the pubs and get people to church via ancient Scottish country cooking, we celebrate our glorious, different traditions but also our shared spiritual heritage across the UK.

A Very Country Christmas for BBC One, is made by Tern Television. It was commissioned by Head of Daytime and Early Peak, Carla-Maria Lawson. The Commissioning Editor is Daisy Scalchi and the Executive Producers are Brendan Hughes and Harry Bell.

Songs of Praise: The UK’s Favourite Carol

From the glorious surroundings of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Aled Jones counts down the top ten carols as voted for in a UK wide online poll. With an array of star guests including Sir Cliff Richard, Katherine Jenkins, The Priests, The Kingdom Choir and the Choir of St Paul’s, with the carol voted as the UK’s favourite performed by one of the finest voices in the world, Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli. A panel of carol experts including Gareth Malone, Pam Rhodes, Karen Gibson, Mark De-Lisser and the Director of Music at St Pauls Andrew Carwood, explain the fascinating stories and histories behind some of the UK’s best loved carols.

Songs of Praise: The UK’s Favourite Carol for BBC One, is made by Avant Media and Nine Lives Media. It was commissioned by Head of Daytime and Early Peak, Carla-Maria Lawson. The Commissioning Editor is Daisy Scalchi and the Executive Producers are Emyr Afan for Avanti Media and Cat Lewis for Nine Lives Media.

Carols from King’s

One thing that won’t change this Christmas is the traditional, much-anticipated moment when a solo chorister sings Once In Royal David's City, in the candlelit chapel of King's College, Cambridge, as the well-loved celebration of the Christmas story begins once more. The world-famous King's College Choir sings carols old and new, including the Sussex Carol (arr. Willcocks), In the Bleak Mid-Winter (arr. Wilberg), Still, Still, Still (Bob Chilcott), Candlelight Carol (John Rutter) and O Come All Ye Faithful. First broadcast over 65 years ago, Carols from King's was inspired by and complements BBC Radio 4's A Festival Of Nine Lessons And Carols. Filmed without a congregation and with the choir socially distanced to protect against Coronavirus, the television programme gives viewers an opportunity to enjoy the stunning architecture of the chapel, the exquisite singing of the choir, and appreciate readings from the King James bible and seasonal poetry, read by members of King’s College.

Carols from King’s for BBC Two, is made by BBC Studios Factual Salford. It was commissioned by Patrick Holland, Channel Controller, BBC Two and Clare Sillery, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries, History and Religion. The Commissioning Editor is Daisy Scalchi and the Executive Producer is Alan Holland.

Midnight Mass

The traditional Christmas Eve celebration of Midnight Mass comes live from the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, Clifton, Bristol. The Bishop of Clifton, the Rt Revd Declan Lang, will preside and the Mass will be introduced by Canon Bosco MacDonald, Cathedral Dean, who will also preach. Choir members, socially distanced to protect against Coronavirus, will sing well-loved carols including O Come All Ye Faithful, Silent Night and Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. The Mass setting is Missa Universalis, composed by the cathedral’s director of music, Richard Jeffrey-Gray and the organist is Stephen Bryant.

Director: Matthew Woodward
Producer: Victoria Simpson
Executive producer: Hugh Faupel

Christmas Day Service

An uplifting, joyful celebration of the birth of Jesus, with members of the Church of God of Prophecy, live from Aberdeen Street Church in Birmingham. The service will be led by Senior Pastor Peter Sutcliffe, from Nechells Outreach Centre and Bishop Paul McCalla, Regional Presiding Bishop. Choir members and musicians, socially distanced to protect against Coronavirus, will sing some of the best-loved carols, including Joy to the World, Mary’s Boy Child and O Come All Ye Faithful.

Series Producer: Pamela Hossick
Executive Producer: Chris Loughlin

On Christmas Night

Ashley Banjo narrates the story of the first Christmas from Luke's Gospel, when angels appeared to shepherds to proclaim the news of Jesus’s birth. With a musical performance to close Christmas Day.

Producer/Director: Garry Boon
Executive Producer: Alan Holland

The Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year Message

The Most Revd Justin Welby speaks about the challenges of 2020 and where he finds hope for the year ahead. Speaking from the chapel at St Thomas' Hospital in London, the Archbishop reflects on his experience volunteering as a hospital chaplain during the pandemic - and what it has taught him about the of community and caring for each other.

Producer/Director: Garry Boon
Executive Producer: Alan Holland


BBC Radio 2

BBC Radio 2 Young Chorister of the Year 2020
BBC Radio 2, 6 December, 9-10pm

Tonight, join us for the final of the very first joint BBC Radio 2 and Songs of Praise Young Chorister of the Year 2020 competition. From Gorton Monastery in Manchester, the Revd Kate Bottley with Katherine Jenkins and Aled Jones, help expert judges John Rutter, Laura Wright and Carl Jackson, identify the winner and honourably mentioned Choristers. Chosen from hundreds of entries, five talented girl and five talented boy choristers hope to impress and go through to the final.

As it’s the second Sunday of Advent, six of the best girl and boy choristers in the UK perform their chosen Christmas carol or song. The competition, now in its 34th year of broadcast on Radio 2, celebrates young talent singing in churches, chapels, cathedrals and beyond. The programme includes a performance of O Holy Night from Aled Jones, Katherine Jenkins and all the finalists.

Presenter: Revd. Kate Bottley
Producer: Katharine Longworth for BBC Audio

Good Morning Christmas
BBC Radio 2, 25 December, 8-10am

Revd Kate Bottley helps the nation celebrate a rather different Christmas morning with carols and Christmas wishes from the stars. With a specially curated mix of fabulous festive songs and sing-a-long carols, Kate will have the perfect soundtrack for Christmas morning, whatever Christmas looks like for listeners this year.

She’ll be reflecting on the story of Christmas, connecting the nation through listeners’ messages, and hearing from some of our most beloved stars and national treasures with their Christmas messages for those tuning in today.

Presenter: Revd Kate Bottley
Producer: Rebecca Maxted for BBC Audio

Mica’s Gospel Christmas
BBC Radio 2, 25 December

Gospel was my first musical love, so I’m thrilled that I’ll be sharing my favourite gospel songs with Radio 2 listeners on Christmas Day morning.
— Mica Paris

Soul diva Mica Paris returns to her gospel roots on Christmas morning. Mica’s love of music started with the gospel records played at home by her family and the music she heard in church, where her singing talent was discovered and nurtured. She returns to some of the first records that moved her, to curate the perfect soundtrack for an uplifting Christmas morning.

Mica explored the revival of gospel music in pop earlier this year in her BBC TV documentary The Story of Gospel in Six Songs, and has now recorded her first ever gospel album.

Mica says: “Gospel was my first musical love, so I’m thrilled that I’ll be sharing my favourite gospel songs with Radio 2 listeners on Christmas Day morning.”

From the Edwin Hawkin Singers to The Kingdom Choir, via The Clarke Sisters, Reverend Al Green, Mary Mary, Aretha Franklin and Mariah Carey, Mica presents Christmas classics and rare gospel gems that stir the soul and get the Christmas celebrations started.

Presenter: Mica Paris
Producer: Rebecca Maxted for BBC Audio

BBC Radio 3

A Service for Advent, with Carols
BBC Radio 3, 29 November, 3-4.30pm

Live from the Chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge , with Director of Music Andrew Nethsingha, Assistant Organist James Anderson-Besant, and Herbert Howells Organ Scholar George Herbert, BBC Radio 3 broadcasts the annual musical celebration of Advent with its four sections, reflecting the season’s growing anticipation, both of the first coming of Christ and of that Day when the prayer ‘Thy Kingdom come’ is finally and fully answered.

Producer: Ben Collingwood for BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3 Breakfast Christmas Carol Competition
BBC Radio 3, 10-18 December

Now in its seventh year, the popular annual fixture of the Radio 3 Christmas schedule invited applications in all musical styles for the first time. Aspiring composers were encouraged to submit tunes of any musical style, from classical to jazz, gospel, and more, and entrants could submit either a traditional written score or upload a video or audio recording. The only requirement was to set verses from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s hope-filled seasonal poem Christmas Carol.

The 2020 competition received a record volume of entries in a wide variety of musical styles. A team of judges including The Kingdom Choir founder, conductor and workshop leader Karen Gibson; composer and choral director Ken Burton; opera icon bass-baritone Bryn Terfel; organist Anna Lapwood; jazz singer and broadcaster Clare Teal; among others are now shortlisting the tunes to the final six in a blind-judging process. Singer, composer and arranger Clare Wheeler – a former member of vocal group The Swingles - will mentor the six finalists through the second phase of the competition, guiding them on the journey from an initial score or voice recording to a fully-arranged piece.

The six carols, in their final form, will then be recorded by the BBC Singers and Principal Guest Conductor Bob Chilcott and played across Radio 3 from 10 December, with members of the public invited to vote for their favourite carol online. The vote closes on 17 December and the winner will be revealed during the Radio 3 Breakfast show and online on 18 December.

European Broadcasting Union: Christmas Around the World
BBC Radio 3, 20 December, 9am-11pm

A day-long festival of Christmas and singing from across Europe and Canada in the European Broadcasting Union’s annual Christmas music day. In a year where singing in choirs has largely been curtailed due to the global pandemic, choirs and orchestras come together in socially distant performances of music that celebrates the joy of singing and the wonder of Christmas.

Presented by Sara Mohr-Pietsch and Andrew McGregor

Choral Evensong
BBC Radio 3, 23 December, 3.30pm

From the Chapel of Royal Holloway, University of London

The BBC Singers explore the Christmas story through the eyes of 20th and 21st century composers. From Messiaen’s 1935 exploration of the birth of Christ to more contemporary carols from composers such as Toby Young, Errollyn Wallen, Roderick Williams and Sally Beamish, the ensemble provide Radio 3 with a range of religious choral music for the festive season

Rupert Gough (Director of Music)
George Nicholls (Organ Scholar)

BBC Singers

The BBC Singers live from the Temple Church, London
BBC Radio 3, 10 December, 2pm

The BBC Singers live from the Temple Church, London, with Ashley Grote performing Messiaen’s work for organ, exploring the birth of Christ. Presented by Emma Cleobury

Messiaen: La Nativité du Seigneur, interspersed with thematically related choral works.

BBC Singers
Nicholas Chalmers, conductor
Ashley Grote, organ

Contemporary Christmas Carols with Readings
BBC Radio 3, 22 December, 2pm

Sofi Jeannin directs the BBC Singers in a concert of carols from the late 20th and 21st centuries, interspersed with poetry reflecting the Christmas story.

BBC Singers
Ashley Grote, organ
Sofi Jeannin, conductor

BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Carols for Christmas with BBC NOW
BBC Radio Wales, 25 December, midnight

A best of programme looking back through BBC National Orchestra of Wales’ Carols for Christmas archive.

Repeated on Friday 25 December at 6am on BBC Radio Wales

Christmas Classics from Around the World
BBC Radio Wales, 24 December, 9pm

A studio concert recorded without an audience and with a socially distanced BBC National Orchestra of Wales exploring Christmas music and traditions around the world.

Repeated on Friday 25 December at 2pm on BBC Radio Wales

BBC Radio 4

Faith In Music
BBC Radio 4, 7, 14, 21 and 28 December, 4-4.30pm

Catholic composer Sir James MacMillan considers the faith lives of four very different composers.

Over the centuries, composers have created musical masterpieces which many listeners have come to regard as spiritual touchstones. For example, Tallis's motet Spem in alium, Wagner’s opera Parsifal, Elgar's oratorio The Dream of Gerontius, Bernstein's Mass. But what did these composers actually believe about God, faith, compassion, an afterlife and redemption? And do we need to share these beliefs in any way, to have a spiritual experience as listeners to their music?

Producer: Rosie Boulton
A Must Try Softer Production for BBC Radio 4

Beyond Belief
BBC Radio 4, 21 December, 4.30-5pm

Christmas is often a time of celebration and reflection. A time of sitting by the Christmas tree, eating and drinking, spending time with loved ones and for Christians reflecting on the birth of Jesus. His mother Mary is a highly revered figure in both Christianity and Islam. The iconic pose of the Madonna and Child is celebrated in art but we are told very little about her in the Bible. Joining Ernie Rea to discuss the Virgin Mary is Prof Tina Beattie, Director of the Catherine of Sienna College, the University of Roehampton; Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at the University of Edinburgh; and His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London.

Producer: Amanda Hancox for BBC Radio 4

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
BBC Radio 4, 24 December, 3-4.30pm

For millions listening on radio and online around the world, A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, live from the candlelit Chapel of King's College, Cambridge, marks the beginning of Christmas. It is based around nine Bible readings which tell the story of the loving purposes of God. They are interspersed with carols old and new, sung by the world-famous chapel choir. In a normal year the choir would also lead the congregation in traditional Christmas hymns, but this Christmas Eve there will be no congregation present. With Covid restrictions and the need for social distancing within the choir, a number of new arrangements have been made which capitalise on the rare opportunity to hear these ever popular hymns in versions for choir only.

As is so often the case, this year's service marks the musical contribution (through their arrangements and descants) of several former Directors of Music, including Sir David Willcocks, Sir Philip Ledger and Sir Stephen Cleobury, as well as the current Director, Daniel Hyde.

Significant twentieth century composer Elizabeth Poston features in the service, as well as arrangements by Witold Lutoslawski and former chorister Bob Chilcott.

Producer: Philip Billson for BBC Radio 4
Repeated on BBC Radio 3 on 25 December at 1pm

Something Understood: Hope in an Age of Adversity
BBC Radio 4, 24 December, 9-10pm

A special Christmas edition of Something Understood. Towards the close of this difficult year, in which comfort has been in short supply for many, hope is a precious commodity. Unable to get into BBC studios in India because of Covid restrictions, Mark Tully returns to present this hour long programme from his home in Delhi . In this unique blend of music interview and readings, he examines what strength can be taken from adversity itself, what comfort both spiritual and psychological can be used to soothe it and how poets, philosophers, artists and thinkers have found the strength to find joy and light in times of darkness both now and in the past.

Presenter: Mark Tully
Producer: Frank Stirling
A 7 Digital production for BBC Radio 4

Midnight Mass
BBC Radio 4, 24 December, 11.30pm-12.45am

The Mass of the Nativity of the Lord, live from Manchester Cathedral. Carols and anthems include the seasonal favourite by Harold Darke - In the Bleak Midwinter and the mass is sung to Mozart's Missa Brevis in F K192.

Celebrant - Rogers Govender, Dean
Preacher - Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester
Organist and Master of the Choristers - Christopher Stokes
Sub-Organist - Geoffrey Woollatt
Producer - Ruth Thomson for BBC Radio 4

Christmas Service
BBC Radio 4, 25 December, 9-9.45am

“A draft in the stable.”

The Revd Richard Carter and the Revd Catherine Duce lead a socially distanced retelling of the Christmas story starting with a donkey in Hackney City Farm’s most drafty stable. As mandated, angels appear at the Annunciation, shepherds “in-the-fields” and Joseph does finally agree to let everybody in, all in agreement with latest Church of England guidance! With St Martin’s Voices directed by Gabriella Noble and St Martin’s Brass. With organist Ben Giddens. Sermon: The Vicar, the Revd Dr Sam Wells. Recorded in St Martin-in-the-Fields, Hackney City Farm and on location around Trafalgar Square.

Producer: Andrew Earis for BBC Radio 4

Christmas Meditation
BBC Radio 4, 26 December, 12.15-12.30am

A reflection on the meaning of Christmas.

Producer: Ruth Thomson for BBC Radio 4

BBC Scotland

On television, the new series of Reflections at the Quay will run from 6 December through to Lent 2021 and be broadcast from the foyer at BBC Scotland’s Pacific Quay headquarters. Each week it will feature music and reflection from people of all faiths. There will be multi faith services running through until Christmas and Sally Magnusson will present the annual Christmas Celebration on Christmas Eve which will feature of carols from previous years from all over Scotland.

Existing weekly religious format programmes New Every Sunday and Sunday Morning continue on BBC Radio Scotland. On Christmas Eve there will be a Watchnight Service which will be repeated on Christmas Day. Christmas Day will also feature the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with carols and Christmas music and spiritual programme, Cathy MacDonald welcomes in Christmas.

BBC Alba will broadcast Alleluia! with hymns, readings & spiritual reflections on Christmas Eve and will continue to broadcast a religious programme throughout the year on Sundays.

BBC Wales

On Christmas Eve, Radio Cymru begin the celebrations with Mair – a modern interpretation of the Christmas story by Manon Steffan Ros. This year’s traditional Naw Llith a Charol service will include readings by Radio Cymru presenters and specially recorded carols by artists including Sir Bryn Terfel. On Christmas Day, Yr Oedfa will be led by young people from Y Tabernacl chapel in Cardiff, followed by a selection of carols chosen by Members of the Senedd. On Radio Wales there will be a special edition of Celebration hosted by the Archbishop of Wales, bringing churches from across the country together on Christmas morning.

BBC Northern Ireland

BBC Radio Ulster will present a series of seasonal reflections and music over the Christmas period. On Sunday 20 December Sounds Sacred, with Richard Yarr, will bring popular hymns and music performed by local and internationally acclaimed performers, including listeners' requests. Later that evening, Robin Mark returns to BBC Radio Ulster for a new series of Praise Revival, starting with an evening of Christmas Praise recorded at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, and featuring the New Irish Choir and Orchestra, with special guests Sylvia Burnside, Paul Baloche, Brian Houston and Dana Masters.

On Christmas Day, Morning Service presents Asleep on the Hay, in which Canon Simon Doogan reflects on the many different ways in which the Child in the Manger relates to many of the challenges we face during the Coronavirus crisis. And in the afternoon, Father Brian D’Arcy will be keeping listeners company with an hour of seasonal songs and reflections.

Local radio

Over Christmas, BBC local radio will bring listeners a series of exclusive interviews with some of the most famous music stars in the world plus a number of special carol concerts to ensure everyone can still enjoy the sound of Christmas this year. With listeners separated from loved ones, local radio will connect families and friends spread out across the country through a new project called Send a Christmas Hug, with listeners recording special messages for family members for broadcast on local radio and regional TV.

Our weekly church services during advent (every Sunday from 8am) will feature:

Sunday 6 December - Reverend David Shosanya, former gang member turned Baptist minister

Sunday 13 December - A Nativity service led by the Bishop of Dorking, Jo Wells, and featuring the Wintershall Players (who do a famous Nativity and a Passion play every year in Trafalgar Square)

Sunday 20 December - The new Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, leads a Christmas service

Meanwhile, on Christmas Day we will have a festive service from the Salvation Army with carols and readings.

Source BBC One

November 27, 2020 4:20am ET by BBC One  


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