Carols, shepherds and even a donkey for a very special Christmas at Halifax Minster

Carols, shepherds and even a donkey for a very special Christmas at Halifax Minster
Carols, shepherds and even a donkey for a very special Christmas at Halifax Minster

Christmas is one of the most wonderful times of the year – and for Halifax Minster, Christmas one of the busiest.

The historic building is preparing to welcome as many as 14,000 people through its ancient, solid oak doors – and some of them four-legged!

The festive throng will include members of the regular congregation, choristers, musicians, school pupils and their teachers, not forgetting hundreds of shepherds, angels and wise men, and for its well-loved annual Christingle services, a real live donkey.

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These visitors will be taking part in a packed festive feast of celebrations aimed at involving a wide cross-section of the local community.

And all of these events have been carefully planned by the Minster’s hard-working team.

Vicar of Halifax Minster, Canon Hilary Barber said: “There is a lot of preparation in the run up to Christmas but all the hard work and effort definitely pays off when we see the appreciation on people’s faces as they walk through the doors.

“This year for example, following on from last year, we held the second Christmas Tree Festival. This saw us transforming the Minster into a magical winter wonderland with a forest of Christmas trees adorning almost every bit of space.

“We were grateful for a host of local organisations and businesses across Halifax, who generously sponsored and decorated the them and put them in place for the enjoyment of all the Minster’s visitors. It was a huge success with more than 1,000 visitors coming to see them during the four-day festival, which heralded the start of our seasonal celebrations.”

The Minster is also renowned for its beautiful music, - and no more so than at Christmas. This means a busy time for the director of music, planning the music for the many carol services, as well as the choirs and organists who spend hours rehearsing.

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Canon Barber added: “Our administrator is busy ensuring contracts have been returned and floor managers and volunteers are booked for each occasion, while the new photocopier will be doing over time as thousands of Orders of Service are printed!

“The clergy are kept busy writing services and choosing carols and readings, and then inviting people across the town to come and read in the Minster. These invited guests represent a wide cross section of the whole community.

“In recent years we have teamed up with Dean Clough-based radio station Phoenix FM, who broadcast and record numerous events and services over the festive period, enabling organisations to hear their events once more, or people at home looking after the young and old, to be able to participate in their own way.

But for Canon Barber, all this frenetic activity is second nature. Growing up in a vicarage in Cambridge meant he lived in a busy house whose doors were always almost open and none more so than in the build-up to Christmas.

“The annual Nativity meant costumes dragged out of the attic, to be ironed, washed, hemmed, and a cast of hundreds of children, who ether didn’t want to be in the play, or who were fighting over who was going to be Mary that particular year,” he recalls.

“Singing in the choir, the most coveted solo of the year was the first verse of Once in Royal, at the Christmas Carol Service, usually held at 6.30pm on Christmas Eve. It was on Christmas Eve that as a family, we would all stop what we were doing, and with a radio on in many rooms listening to the Carol Service from King’s, we’d decorate the house ready for Christmas day. We didn’t usually have a tree, but a large piece of yew, taken from a tree in the next door church yard.

“My mum and my two sisters loved to decorate the house with streamers, winter decorations, and objects which hung from the ceiling, while my dad and I would bring in wood and coal for the fire, ducking in the coal shed from the brace of pheasants which was an annual gift from the neighbouring farmer, waiting to be plucked on Boxing Day for dinner.

“Christmas afternoon, after a late lunch following the morning services, we’d snooze in front of the television and open fire, as my dad slipped out on his bike, visiting older people, whom he knew to be spending Christmas on their own, and for whom he would be the only person they would see all day on Christmas Day.”

Canon Barber, a dad of four, admits that by the time Christmas Day arrives, he is ready for a well-earned break. “When I get home, I have a large sherry (or three), and a bacon sandwich, and fall asleep until it’s time for Christmas dinner. In the evening, I open a few presents and see what the children have got.”

He adds: “It’s amazing to imagine Christmas in the Minster for over 900 years, bearing testimony to how God became a human being in the person of Jesus, and how the story of Jesus’s birth has been told over and over again for hundreds of years and carols sung over and over again.

“Christmas 2017 at the Minster will be just as special and everyone is invited.”

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Here is a list of the services taking place over the next week at Halifax Minster:

Christmas Carol Service: Sunday 23 December - 6.30pm

This candle lit service tells the story of Jesus birth through readings and carols. Music performed by the Minster choirs, organ and brass. Traditional carols sung by everyone.

Christingle Services: Monday Christmas Eve - 1.45pm, 3pm, 4pm

Christmas Carols for everyone, light a Christingle, Elland Silver Youth Band and of course, a real donkey!

All children are invited to dress up and join in the Nativity – come as an angel, shepherd, or a king! No rehearsal needed, just come and join in on the day. Come and hear the Minster choir sing Carols around the Christmas tree in the Piece Hall at 12.30pm and join in the procession to the Minster at 1.15pm for the first Christingle service.

Midnight Mass: Monday, Christmas Eve - 11.30pm

A traditional sung service of Holy Communion for Christmas. If you want to lie in bed on Christmas morning, then this is the service for you!

Christmas Day: Tuesday, Christmas Day: Said Holy Communion Book of Common Prayer - 9am

Family Eucharist with carols led by the Choristers of the Minster Choir - 10.30am

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