Advent, Christmas and Epiphany at Manchester Cathedral

The seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany are sometimes described collectively as the ‘incarnation’ cycle in the church’s calendar. It is the time of the year when we anticipate the second coming of Jesus, when we celebrate Jesus’ birth, and when we reflect on the meaning of God incarnate – that is, God taking on human flesh, when Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.

In the northern hemisphere, this cycle of festivals falls in the darkest time of our winter, and the imagery of Christ being light in the darkness, which runs throughout the New Testament, has a real and powerful symbolic impact in our worship.


Advent, is not only the opening of the incarnation cycle, it is the beginning of the Church’s liturgical year, and starts a new cycle of feasts, festivals, holy days and ordinary time that shape our annual pattern of celebrations.

On the first day of Advent, which is always a Sunday, we light the first of our candles on the Advent Wreath in the Cathedral at 10.30am. There are four Sundays in Advent, and so the wreath has four candles around the outside; an additional candle being lit on each successive Sunday. There is a fifth candle in the centre, which is lit on Christmas Day.

On the evening of Advent Sunday there is a candle-lit service at 5.30pm, sung by the Cathedral’s voluntary choir. The candle-lit mediaeval cathedral and Advent music make a stunning combination.

Many people are familiar these days with a count down to Christmas in the form of Advent calendars (with or without little chocolates) or a tall Advent candle that is burnt down a little each day throughout December. We hear much about the number of shopping days left until Christmas, too!

The church’s approach to Advent is a little more complex than this. Whilst Advent is a time of practical preparation for the celebration of Christmas, and we reflect upon the events that preceded and led up to Jesus birth, there is more to it than that.

Advent is also the time in the church’s year when we our expectation of Jesus’ return is re-kindled, looking forward to the day when Jesus will come again to the earth in glory, as Judge and King, and will establish an eternal reign in a renewed heaven and earth. The Bible tells us that Jesus will return at a time when no-one expects him, but that everyone will see him, when he does. So many of the themes within our readings, prayers and music challenge us to ensure that we are ready to meet him, and remind us to take our preparations for that day very seriously. The traditional words and music of Advent are profoundly moving.

All through December, the Cathedral is host to Christmas carol services and concerts for a vast array of organisations, so the themes of Advent tend to become interwoven with the celebration of Christmas itself.

For details of services in Advent, visit What's On and select the cagegory Special Services from the drop-down menu.


Although the celebration of Christmas probably wasn’t a regular feature in the church’s calendar until the fourth century AD, it now holds the most popular appeal in our society of all the Christian festivals. City Christmas markets around Manchester Cathedral, and the busy programme of Carol concerts and services hosted by the cathedral all contribute to the sense of expectation.

For details of Christmas services, visit What's On and select the cagegory Special Services from the drop-down menu. Christmas services typically include:

  • A lunchtime carol sing-along
  • Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
  • Nativity and Blessing of the Crib on Christmas Eve at 12 noon
  • Midnight Sung Eucharist and first communion of Christmas at 11.30pm
  • Sung Eucharist on Christmas Day at 10.30am

The latter two services are the climax of the Christmas celebrations for hundreds of worshippers. With the Bishop of Manchester and the Cathedral Choir, we worship God for sending his son into the world to be the Saviour, bringing hope and light and life.


Epiphany continues the celebrations of Christmas (and is, indeed, in the Eastern Church, the essence of the Christmas celebrations). The Epiphany themes explore different ways in which God’s glory is revealed in the human person of Jesus. The visit of the magi, the theophany at Jesus’ baptism, the miracle at Cana of Galilee, all reveal something more about Jesus.

The Feast of Epiphany falls on the 6 January each year, but the season continues until the beginning of February with the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as Candlemas.

Prayers for Christian unity and mission are also made during Epiphany, since the week of Christmas Unity always falls during January, and the visit of the magi to the young Jesus, highlight the fact that Jesus’ mission was for all the people of the world.

Sung Eucharist on the Feast of the Epiphany  6 January at 5.30pm

What can I give him? In the words of Christina Rossetti’s famous carol In the bleak mid-winter, the wise men ‘do their part’. This service begins with the presentation of the three gifts – gold frankincense and myrrh - to the child Jesus in his mother’s arms, and challenges us to consider our own response to the God who loves and calls each one of us. The service begins at the crib, and progresses to the Quire. 

Epiphany Procession Sunday 9 January 2011 at 4.00pm starting at St Ann’s Church

This is an annual occasion when the Cathedral Voluntary Choir and the Choir of St Ann’s Church join forces and, with additional musicians, spectacular costumes, an illuminated star and congregational lanterns, we form a colourful and festive procession through the city centre. The service begins at St Ann’s Church (in St Ann’s Square) for a short opening, followed by the procession to the Cathedral. In the Cathedral the procession continues around the building, as we reflect with symbol, word and music, on the meaning of Christ’s coming. Leaders and members of other city centre churches are invited, and all are welcome.

Epiphany Christingle
Sunday 16 January 2011 at 10.30am
There is a lively and growing Sunday School at Manchester Cathedral, and on this Sunday the children will make Christingles. These will be brought into the service for a short Christingle ceremony within the Sung Eucharist. New and visiting children are always welcome at Sunday School.

Sung Eucharist for Candlemas*
Wednesday 2 February 2011 at 5.30pm
When the infant Jesus was greeted by Simeon and Anna in the Jerusalem Temple, Simeon declared that Jesus would be ‘a light to reveal [God] to the nations’. To emphasise the significance of Jesus being this light, the Quire is illuminated with hundreds of little candles, and everyone in the congregation has a candle too. This very moving service brings the festive season to a close.

* Candlemas is the popular title for this Feast Day, which is properly called The Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

For details of Epiphany services, visit What's On and select the category Special Services from the drop-down menu.