New winter literary festival explores the history of Christmas carols

22 November 2021
Illuminating stories of belief and spirituality are to be celebrated at Scotland’s first religious literary festival, organised by the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh.

The hidden history of Christmas carols and explorations into belief in crime fiction and comedy are among the highlights of Winter Tales Book Festival, billed as a festival of literature, religion and the imagination. 

The festival – part of celebrations to mark the 175th anniversary of New College, the home of the School Divinity – runs from Friday 3 December to Sunday 5 December 2021.

More than 25 events with acclaimed writers and speakers are taking place in front of in-person audiences at New College. The indoor festival also offers a café, bookshop and book signings from many of the authors.  

Most events are free but ticketed. Information on how to book is available on the Winter Tales Festival website.

Award-winning author James Robertson will discuss the shifting role of religion in Scotland and beyond as part of a presentation on his latest novel, News of the Dead.  

The Revd Professor Ian Bradley,  author of more than forty books, will take guests on a light-hearted and informative exploration of Christmas carols.

Scottish author Val McDermid - who has sold over 17 million books and been translated into more than 40 languages – will be talking about the complex relationship between religion and crime writing.

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Jan Sutch Pickard and Sally Foster-Fulton will share poetry and prayers in an event reflecting on the mystery of Advent and Christmas and the theme of hope, from the context of the Iona Community.

Jewish tales from Scotland will be brought to life by a panel of experts. The event includes of a tour of the ‘Jewish quarter’ of Edinburgh and of the Gorbals in Glasgow, where guests will listen to the sounds of the streets, the tenements and synagogue music of the early twentieth century.

The festival also features a service of readings, carols and music at which the Rt Hon Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, will preach.

Alison Jack, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity, said: “The world of religion, belief and spirituality has not only provided authors with some of their most memorable plots but the literature also confronts some of the ethical, cultural and historical questions shaping our world. We are delighted to able to launch this festival to celebrate and explore that influence, alongside some Christmas themed events and celebrations for adults and children to enjoy.” 

The festival is being presented with support from The Centre for Theology and Public Issues, SPCK Publishing, the Drummond Trust, the Scottish Network for Religion and Literature and the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH).

Photo by Jessica Fadel on Unsplash. Report courtesy University of Edinburgh