The very soul of Christmas: crowds gather for 73rd Carols by Candlelight in Canberra
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The very soul of Christmas: crowds gather for 73rd Carols by Candlelight in Canberra

Canberra's big traditional carols by candlelight started in 1945, outside Parliament House, the crowd celebrating the first peacetime Christmas in six years, holding aloft "candles, hurricane lamps and kerosene-burning lamps".

Seventy-two years later and a few things have changed - the crowd gets safety-conscious, battery-operated candles these days - but the spirit of Christmas is just as strong.

The 2017 Carols by Candlelight at Stage 88.

The 2017 Carols by Candlelight at Stage 88.Credit:Jamila Toderas

The 73rd annual Carols by Candlelight was celebrated on Wednesday night, with crowds gathering in Commonwealth Park to hear the voices of the Woden Valley Youth Choir and the music of the Canberra City Band. Featured performers were Anthony Simeonovic and Tina Robinson.

The choir's administrator Brenda Copley said the carols moved to Stage 88 in Commonwealth Park in 1988.

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Anna-Sophia Boyd 2 of Pialligo.

Anna-Sophia Boyd 2 of Pialligo.Credit:Jamila Toderas

She said the carols were such an enduring part of Canberra life for more than 70 years because it was about capturing the real spirit of Christmas.

"It's a family-friendly event and it's just very relaxed and, also, it's for charity and people give quite generously," she said.

"It's a free event and 100 per cent of proceeds from the sale of the candles and carol sheets go to the chosen charity."

That charity this year is Parkinson's ACT. The nominated charity at the 1945 concert was the Aid-for-Britain Appeal. The event back then was coordinated by the YMCA and YWCA.

There was a link between those post-war carols in Canberra in 1945 and the one on Wednesday night. A soloist at the concert in 1945 was Edward Gumley. His daughter Barbara went on to marry Don Whitbread and together the couple in 1969 founded the Woden Valley Youth Choir, which has anchored the carols for many years.

And those intending to go to the 1945 carols in Canberra were urged to "bring a candle, but these must not be lighted until the torch-bearers light the flares on the [War] Memorial", a reminder of a community still reeling from World War Two.

There is still more opportunity to take part in carols by candlelight this weekend.

Carols by candlelight will be at Lanyon Homestead on Tharwa Drive on Saturday, December 16 from 5pm to 9pm.

Amber Nichols and Katie de Veau will lead Carols in Town Park in Tuggeranong on Sunday, December 17, with festivities starting at 4.30pm. They will be supported by the Salvation Army's National Capital Band, the Tuggeranong Salvation Army Timbrels, a local choir and there will be a special appearance from Santa.

Megan Doherty is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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