by Emma Clarke, Events Manager
While most people might start planning their Christmas activities a few months ahead of time, the Events Office at Canterbury Cathedral actually starts the planning process several years in advance. The annual events are booked in five-year cycles, meaning that the Advent and Christmas bookings currently run up to and, in some cases, beyond 2018.
The detailed planning for this year’s events started back in July when everyone else was thinking of ice creams, sunshine and summer breaks. With over 22 external events and the Cathedral’s own Carol Services to manage each year, the planning process has to be as thorough as possible to ensure that each and every event gets the most from their time at the Cathedral, even during this very busy time of year.
Extensive pre-planning meetings are held with the external organisers, often involving different departments from the various schools and institutions, as well as various departments at the Cathedral. At the heart of the planning are three main departments – the Events Office, the Vesturer’s Office and the Precentor’s Office. Between these three departments, we cover all of the logistics, ticketing, stage management and content of each and every event taking place during the Advent and Christmas period, and that is in addition to the daily and seasonal Services that take place.
The range of events that take place during the festive period is vast and this year we are hosting events ranging from the 3rd Battalion Princess of Wales Royal Regiment Carol Service, the Demelza House Celebration of Christmas, the St Nicholas Parade and Service and the Canterbury Choral Society Family Carol Concert, as well as numerous schools, colleges and universities Carol Services. We even host a Carol Concert organised by the Orient Express, which includes a trip on the Orient Express steam train from London, shopping in Canterbury and topped off by a festive Christmas Concert lead by Dr David Flood in the Crypt of the Cathedral.
As well as the external Services and events, there are the two popular Cathedral Carol Services held on 23 and 24 December. These identical Services play host to just under 4000 guests over the two days and draw a congregation from all over the world. The only difference between the two Services is that – due to popular demand – we have ticketed the Christmas Eve Service to manage the numbers. Applications for this Service are received throughout the year. Every application is carefully logged on the database so we can be sure of when it was received and for how many. This process is the same for applications from guests such as the Dean, the Bishop of Dover and even the Archbishop. Due to the popularity of the Christmas Eve Carol Service, we are oversubscribed every year and unfortunately have to disappoint many people when we send them the regret letter. That is probably one of the hardest parts about the entire process – knowing you have disappointed many people.
However, that disappointment is more than outweighed by the reaction we get from those fortunate enough to attend either Service. Assisted by an amazing band of ‘Christmas Angels’, drawn from volunteers and Cathedral staff, myself and Jocelyn (the Events Assistant) spend many long, cold (and in some case very wet) hours standing in the Precincts to ensure all receive as warm a welcome to the Cathedral as is possible. The dedication of this regular band of helpers is stunning and it adds so much to my own enjoyment of the Christmas period. And I can assure you there is nothing to beat the feeling of going home on Christmas Eve, knowing that between all of us we have bought a little Christmas joy and cheer to so many different people.