The Christingle

The Christingle

Picture the scene. It’s the week before Christmas and today is bitterly cold. Even though it’s not yet evening, darkness has well and truly fallen. If you braved the wintry weather tonight, you would soon see the stone walls of a church by the sea. Warm lights shine out invitingly from the windows and make patterns of the churchyard trees on the new-fallen snow.

Then, suddenly, the lights go out. If you went inside right now, you would see people of all ages lining the walls of the church, each holding an orange with a lit candle. The tiny lights show little else but the face of each bearer. And they all begin to sing.

The Christingle was invented in 18th century Germany in the Moravian church by the Bishop Johannes de Watteville, who sought a simple way to explain the love of Jesus to everyone; especially the children of his congregation. His idea was to give each child a lit candle wrapped in a red ribbon with the simple prayer, “Lord Jesus, kindle a flame in these dear children’s hearts.”

The Christingle service was introduced to the Anglican church in 1968 and is now often used as a fundraising event for The Children’s Society, a charity devoted to protecting the most vulnerable children in the UK. Over the years, the Christingle has taken on extra parts and a new meaning.

    An orange represents the world. It is shiny and sweet to reflect the gift of life.

    Four cocktail sticks bearing sweets or dried fruit represent the fruits of the earth and the four seasons (though this second meaning was added later).

    The red ribbon or tape represents the blood of Jesus.

    The candle represents Jesus as the light of the world (as per John 8:12).

Together, these make up the Christingle, the ‘Christ-light’; an enduring symbol of the Christian faith.

The Christingle has been a part of Christmas for most of my life – as much as the tree or presents – that it was honestly quite a surprise to be asked about it on several occasions this week! Though, who could blame me – it is the way of most customs that they impress themselves on the mind, unremarkable and unnoticed until they are questioned or missed.

Last year, I was ill and couldn’t go to the Christingle service at my local church. The memory of this was enough to make me go this year despite recently having battled off a random virus. I couldn’t sing, but it was truly satisfying to be a part of something so beautiful as that all-encompassing circle of flickering light.

At Christmas we are fixated with all kinds of light; on the tree, on the advent wreath, even the displays in shop windows (as much as we all hate the commercialism). We give light many different meanings. The light of a candle may be small, vulnerable and easily extinguished, but it is strongest in the darkness; it can be seen from miles away. It draws people near and lightens their hearts.

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