“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”? No, it’s actually Belfast Cathedral Choir. And what a joy to hear these beautiful voices practising for Christmas 2020.
Comprising, normally, of 15 singers, the choir is a quintessential part of life at Belfast Cathedral. The choir sings Sunday for the morning service and at Evensong, as well as singing at many other important services during the year. In addition, the young choristers of Belfast Cathedral Children’s Choir have an important role to play at cathedral services.
In the run-in to Christmas, the choirs are especially busy as they perform at the cathedral’s much-loved and cherished carol services.
When Director of Music, Matthew Owens, took on the role in September 2019, he could never have anticipated that the Children’s Choir’s weekly rehearsal would be taking place over Zoom, or the singers of the Cathedral Choir would need to be standing over 2 metres apart for social distancing.
However, it is taking more than a global pandemic to deter the choir and its fans. Christmas 2020 is still happening at Belfast Cathedral. The plan is for the Carol Service to take place on Christmas Eve (regulations permitting) with anyone hoping to attend being asked to prebook their places.
Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Christmas tree. And every year at St Anne’s, the Northern Ireland Forestry Service delivers the goods. The beautiful 15ft Nordmann Fir is hand picked by a team at the Forestry and delivered to St Anne’s, every year, at around 9:30am on 1 December.
Lead Sexton, Sam Porter, is on hand to ensure the tree is safely unloaded and installed in the cathedral nave. Not always an easy task, as 15ft trees are not only tall, but wide! Once it’s in place, it’s down to Holly Wilson, St Anne’s Commercial Business Manager and Lorna Towns, Commercial Development Officer, to decorate this beautiful specimen.
Adorned in traditional red and gold decorations, with festive coloured lights, the tree takes its place to the left of the choir stalls. And over the years, the tree has gained many admirers - so much so, that visitors to the cathedral have taken to leaving their own decorations on the tree.
The installation of the tree also coincides with the setting up of the nativity scene, which is the work of Billy Miscimmon. A member of the congregation, he is also the custodian of the crib - and we’re reliably informed that the arrival of the crib starts the annual debate. Should baby Jesus be in the crib, or not? The traditionalists believe he should only be in the crib on Christmas Day, the day of his birth.
So it's maybe unsurprising that last year, there were reports that baby Jesus went missing in the run-in to Christmas, and was later found in the Dean’s office. To be clear, we’re not saying that the Dean had any involvement in the movements of baby Jesus, but we can only conclude that whoever left Him there felt he’d be in very safe hands.