For those who hail from Christian and Catholic nations (who are not active at Church, if I might say), the Christmas Season is probably the most nostalgic season in Japan if by chance we get to spend Christmas here in Japan; the homesickness is just almost unbearable at times for some. Albeit in the recent years, Christmas decors in the malls are all up the day after Halloween (coffee shops too already offer their Christmas blends after Halloween!), still, the warmth that we all associate with Christmas back home (even when it’s mid-winter “back home”) seems to be missing. There’s this spirit that seems to be amiss, that spirit which you can almost smell and say with a smile on your face, “Christmas is in the air”. After almost a decade of spending Christmas here in Japan, I have not experienced that Christmas spirit. Until last year.
The difference last year to that of my previous Christmases here was that I joined our choir at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Yokohama. Aside from going to Church more frequently (~with sheepish grin~), I learned about and had the chance to join the Yokohama Nine Lessons and Carols, a joint ecumenical service of the Catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral Choir and the Yokohama Anglican Christ Church Choir. This joint service dates back in history to as far as the 1950's.
The Yokohama Sacred Heart Cathedral
More commonly known as the Yamate Catholic Church, the Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Yokohama. Initially established in 1862 and moved to its current location in the bluff in 1906, the original brick building of the Yamate Catholic Church was nearly destroyed by the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923. The present Cathedral design has since been completed in 1933. English mass, celebrated by a multinational community, is held every Sunday at 9:30 AM.
Yamate Church parishioners clearing the path on a snowy day (Photo Credits - PM Garcia)
The Yokohama Christ Church
Established in 1863 and also moved to its current location in Yamate in 1901, Christ Church is part of the Yokohama Diocese of the Anglican Church of Japan. The Christ Church is an English speaking and multinational Anglican and Episcopal congregation in Yokohama. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated in English every Sunday at 9:30am.
Yokohama Christ Church
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
The first ever Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was held in the Christmas Eve of 1880 in Truro, Cornwall and led by Edward White Benson who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. Although folklore has it that Benson drew up this service to keep men away from the pubs on Christmas Eve, the beautiful tradition has since been celebrated worldwide, mostly in Anglican Churches and also in some Roman Catholic and Lutheran Parishes.
The most popular being the Kings College’ (Cambridge) Nine Lessons and Carols which is annually broadcasted worldwide, the format of the festival is such that nine passages from the Bible are read interspersed with the singing of Christmas Carols.
Here in Yokohama, the festival has been done since mid-1950s in Christ Church. In the early ‘70s, Rev. John Berg (then chaplain of Yokohama Christ Church) and the priests at the Sacred Heart Cathedral decided to combine both church’s choir for the festival. It has since then been ecumenical; continuing in the spirit of friendship between different churches and celebrating the wonderful news of Christmas, together.
The Choir for the 2013 Nine Lessons and Carols at The Christ Church Cathedral.
This year 2015, keeping with tradition, The Yokohama Christ Church choir led by Fr. Andrew Dangerfield and The Sacred Heart Cathedral Choir led by Yutaka Nakamae will once again join voices for the Yokohama Nine Lessons and Carols.
Here’s the choir preparing for this year’s event. Tenors and Bases, behind the cam.
The festival will be held on December 13, 2015 at 5:30 pm at the Yokohama Christ Church Cathedral. We invite everyone to witness this beautiful festival, to prepare ourselves for the wonderful news that Christmas brings.
Snacks will be served at the Church Hall after the festival. If you’re interested to join the churches, or the choirs, or next year’s festival, or have a chat with the choir members and parishioners or to even just simply have a bite, do join us at the Christ Church Hall.
Access to Yokohama Christ Church is right here.
For more information, Japan Times’ feature on the Rev John Berg, check this.