Carols by Candlelight

Carols by Candlelight is an annual Australian Christmas tradition that originated in southeastern Australia in the 19th century and was popularised in Melbourne in 1938. 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 both national and international celebrities accompanied by a symphony orchestra. Today, the largest such event is held annually at the Domain in Sydney on the Saturday before Christmas.

Carols by Candlelight
Delta Goodrem appears during the 2006 Carols by Candlelight rehearsal
GenreChristmas, pop
DatesChristmas Eve
Location(s)Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Years active1938–present
Founded byNorman Banks

Vision Australia's Carols by Candlelight

Vision Australia's Carols by Candlelight is the oldest Carols by Candlelight event in Australia. Carols in the Domain is the largest event in Australia.


The Victorian event was introduced 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 an elderly woman sitting up in bed inside 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 event was held in Alexandra Gardens the following Christmas in 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). However, originally, all profits went to the Austin Hospital. During World War II the Red Cross and the Australian Comforts Fund joined the Austin Hospital as co-recipients, and in the immediate post-war era the RVIB received funds, as did the Austin Hospital.

In recent years, the dress rehearsal on 23 December has become open to the public. Tickets to the event are cheaper than the main event, while funds raised still go towards Vision Australia. The event has become almost as popular as the main event in recent years.

Christmas Eve 2012 marked the 75th anniversary of Carols by Candlelight and Christmas Eve 2017 marked the 80th anniversary of the event.

Hosts and broadcast

The event was originally hosted by its founder Melbourne broadcaster Norman Banks and broadcast over 3KZ.

The 1956 Carols By Candlelight was the first to be broadcast on television, as part of GTV9's pre-launch test transmission, with 3KZ maintaining a separate radio broadcast of the event.[1]

When Banks left 3KZ in 1952, Philip Gibbs became host. During the time that Philip Gibbs was hosting, the program became a radio/TV simulcast on 3KZ and ATV-0, with ATV-0's first telecast in 1969, extending to other stations across the 0-10 Network (now Network Ten). From 1979 it was telecast nationally through the Nine Network. Later radio broadcast partners included 3MP, 3AW and 3EE and across the Macquarie Radio Network as well as Vision Australia's own national radio network.

The event is also broadcast and telecast live to eastern Asia, many Pacific Islands and New Zealand.

Years Hosts Broadcaster Television
1938-1951 Norman Banks 3KZ GTV-9 (1956)
1952-1968 Philip Gibbs
1969–1978 Network Ten
1979–1989 Brian Naylor 3AW[2] Nine Network
1989–2007 Ray Martin
1999 Glenn Ridge and Jennifer Keyte
2008–2012 Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic
2013–2016 Lisa Wilkinson and David Campbell
2017–2018 Sonia Kruger and David Campbell
2019–present Allison Langdon and David Campbell


Performers for the event vary from year to year. Regular performers include David Hobson, Marina Prior, Silvie Paladino, Denis Walter and Anthony Callea. Australian children's band Hi-5 have been headlining the children's segment in recent years. Nine Network stars and contestants from The Voice Australia have also starred in the event in recent years.

The Vision Australia's Carols by Candlelight Choir, Australian Girls Choir and National Boys Choir of Australia appear on the show each year as supporting acts in numerous of the performances.

In 1938 the massed choirs were led by Horace Stevens, who was followed in the position by Max Balderson. The musical director since 2003 has been John Foreman,[3] and from 1984 to 2002 the other musical director was Geoff Harvey.[4]

In earlier years, Carols by Candlelight had a strong classical music theme, and a noticeable religious influence. The Sun Aria winner for each year was automatically invited to sing at Carols by Candlelight. However, since the 1960s, the program has certainly moved towards popular culture.

Ray Martin holds the record for hosting the most Carols by Candlelight shows, from 1989 to 2007. Amazingly enough, out of those, he sang at only one show in 1996 when he sang Harry Connick Jr's "When My Heart Finds Christmas".

Other carols events

Most capital cities in Australia and many country towns hold a carols event in the lead up to Christmas.


Carols in the Domain have been held annually since 1983, originally on the last Saturday evening before Christmas Eve, and on the last Sunday evening before Christmas Eve since 2016. They are televised in Australia and sometimes in other countries.


Carols in the City is held on Riverstage in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens and on television throughout Queensland.


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 Modbury, about a 15 minutes drive north-east from Adelaide, the annual Civic Park Carols attract the second biggest crowd of its type (community) in Australia with more than 40,000 people turning up to the 2018 event. [7]


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. 2019 will be its 75th occurrence. This is the second longest runnings Carols in a capital city. It is a traditional Carols with community singing of carols led 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. Donations are collected for a local charity with $14,180 raised in 2012 for the Snowy Hydro Southcare Helicopter service. In 2011 Auslan interpreters started to provide interpretation for members of the regional deaf community[8]


Carols by Candlelight is held at the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens each year, raising money for charity.

Around Victoria

  • Carols in the Park is held annually in North Balwyn. In 2011 it moved to Macleay Park, North Balwyn. In 2012, 10,000 people attended the celebration in Victoria.[9]
  • Carols at Como Park is held annually in South Yarra by the City of Stonnington.
  • Denis Walter's Carols by the Bay is held on the first Saturday of December in Geelong. It is held at Eastern Beach and is a free event.
  • The City of Monash organises the large annual Carols by Candlelight event in Jells Park, hosted by Pete Smith. It has attracted up to 25,000 people and has been running for over 25 years.
  • 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.



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