Carols by Candlelight

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Carols by Candlelight is an annual Australian Christmas tradition that originated in southeastern Australia in the 19th century and was popularised in Melbourne in 1937. The tradition has since spread around the world. It involves people gathering, usually outdoors in a park, to sing carols by candlelight, featuring live performances by celebrities and accompanied by a band. Today, the largest such event is held annually at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne's King's Domain Gardens on Christmas Eve since 1938.


One of the earliest forms of Carols by Candlelight began in the 19th century, when Cornish Miners in Moonta, South Australia, gathered on Christmas Eve to sing carols lit with candles stuck to the brims of their safety hats.[citation needed] The tradition spread through Victoria and Melbourne, until it was popularised in 1938 by Norman Banks, a radio announcer, then with Melbourne radio station 3KZ. Whilst walking home from his night-time radio shift on Christmas Eve in 1937, he passed a window and saw inside an elderly woman sitting up in bed, listening to Away in a Manger being played on the radio and singing along, with her face being lit by candlelight. Wondering how many others spent Christmas alone, he had the idea to gather a large group of people to all sing Christmas carols together by candlelight. The first ever such event was held in Alexandra Gardens the following Christmas, 1938, and was attended by around 10,000 people.

Following World War II, the Carols became so well patronised that the decision was made to move it to the neighbouring park in King's Domain. In 1959, the newly constructed Sidney Myer Music Bowl provided a permanent venue, where they are still held to this day. Funds raised from donations, ticket, and candle sales are given to Vision Australia (formerly the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, RVIB).

The musical director since 2003 has been John Foreman,[1] and was previously Geoff Harvey (from 1984 until 2002).[2]


The program is broadcast live every Christmas Eve by the Nine Network from the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Australia-wide. The event is also broadcast live to eastern Asia, many Pacific Islands and New Zealand. The event was originally hosted by Brian Naylor and then for 18 years by Ray Martin. From 2008, it was currently presented by Today show hosts Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic, and since 2013 by Wilkinson and Mornings co-host David Campbell. Because of the arrangement, the show often features Nine personalities such as Hi-5, and more recently, stars from Nine's hit series, The Voice.

Years Hosts Australian TV Network
1980–1989 Brian Naylor Nine Network
1990–2007 Ray Martin
2008–2012 Lisa Wilkinson Karl Stefanovic
2013–2014 David Campbell


Similar albeit, usually smaller events are now held all over Australia, usually arranged by churches, community halls, local councils, or other community groups. They are normally held on Christmas Eve or the Sunday or weekend before Christmas.

One of the most notable in NSW is Carols in the Domain, held annually in Sydney.

Christmas Eve 2012 marked the 75th anniversary of Carols by Candlelight, a much loved event that has become a tradition in households around Australia.[3]

In Victoria[edit]

In North Balwyn, Carols in the Park is held annually. In 2011 it moved to Macleay Park, North Balwyn.

In 2012, 10,000 people attended the celebration in Victoria.[4]

In Geelong, there is Denis Walter's Carols by the Bay held on the first Saturday of December. This is the third largest Carols by Candlelight event in Australia, behind Sydney and Melbourne. It is held at Eastern Beach and is a free event. There is also Carols in the Park in Johnston Park on Christmas Eve.

In the City of Yarra a large Carols by Candlelight event has recently been held in the Abbotsford Convent gardens.

In the City of Manningham a large Carols by Candlelight event is held annually in Ruffey Lake Park.

In Werribee, there is the annual City of Wyndham Carols held on the lawns at the historic Werribee Mansion. This event takes place on the second week of December.

Around Australia[edit]

In Sydney, Carols in the Domain (broadcast by the Seven Network) attracts high-profile international performers, and offers free tickets to the live event.

In Brisbane the Lord Mayor's Christmas Carols (Carols in the City broadcast by Nine Network) are held normally the first Saturday in December, at Riverstage in the City Botanic Gardens.

In Perth, Carols by Candlelight are held in mid December at the Supreme Court Gardens, while other events are held at Fremantle, Scarborough and Rockingham. In 2012, Suzie Mathers performed during the IGA Carols by Candlelight in Perth[5]

In Adelaide, Carols by Candlelight is held in the weeks before Christmas in Elder Park on the banks of the River Torrens. In 2012, 30, 000 people witnessed the event.[6]

In Newcastle, New South Wales, Carols by Candlelight are held in mid December, both at Speers Point Park on the edge of Lake Macquarie and at King Edward Park in the city near the beach.

In Hobart, due to the urban nature of the city, there are three main carols services. One each in Clarence, Glenorchy and the main ceremony in St David's Park, Hobart itself.

In Canberra the annual Carols by Candlelight is held in Commonwealth Park on Stage 88. 2012 was its 68th occurrence. It is a traditional Carols with community singing of carols lead by Woden Valley Youth Choir and one of the local bands such as Canberra City Band. Guest Artists are featured - usually drawn from the local community. The event is normally held on the last Wednesday of the school term, from 7.00 pm. Donations are collected for a local charity with $14,180 raised in 2012 for the Snowy Hydro Southcare Helicopter service. In 2011 and 2012, Auslan interpreters provided interpretation for members of the regional deaf community and that service is expected to continue.[7]


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