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Christingle – the lesser-known Christmas tradition

Fire, sweets, singing and children. Christingle is a Christian tradition during the season of advent that even the most church-fearing child can get behind.

The name Christingle is a derivation of the German Christkindl which means ‘Little Christ Child’ and is used in advent, Christmas and Epiphany celebrations to remember Christ as the ‘Light of the World.’

Christingle has been celebrated in the UK since the early 1900s, in those times it was often not possible to use an orange and so the root vegetable the humble ‘Swede’ was used as a supplement. The tradition comes from the Moravian church and Bishop Johannes de Watteville who introduced the festival to Germany in 1747.

The Protestants then spread the tradition across Europe. However, it didn't become popular in the United Kingdom until 1968 when John Pensom used it as a platform to help raise money for the charity The Children's Society. To this day, Christingle in the UK maintains its connection to this charity and each year raises over £1.2million to help vulnerable young people.

But what does it involve?

Well, it is the most flexible religious tradition, possibly in existence. There is no fixed date, no fixed location and no fixed order of service. It requires only that a representation of a "Christingle" is used, the most common being the orange with a candle in the top and sweets pricked into the body with toothpicks. However, you can perform this ceremony anytime during advent and anywhere, even online, it usually culminates with the singing of carols, but there are none that are especially selected. Although, Shine, Jesus, Shine, the 1987 Christian praise anthem written by Graham Kendrick has grown in popularity as a fixture in this event. Hardly surprising considering the theme of Jesus as the light of the world being central to the Christingle message.

In this sense, the tradition is broadly symbolic. The Christingle itself (usually an orange) represents the World, the candle the light of the word of Jesus, the red ribbon around the equator is the blood of Christ and the four sticks North, East, South and West as well as the food (sweets, nuts and fruit) being the fruit of the earth.

To make your own Christingle, you will need:

One orange

A small candle

Some foil

Four cocktail sticks

Some sweets or dried fruit and nuts

If you are participating in a Christingle either in school, church or at home, it is typical for the children to receive their Christingles and walk to the front of the church/room to have them lit. Then will then walk around the church/room spreading the light and refraining from eating the sweets, but probably only thinking about eating the sweets. Once the room has been lit, you can eat the sweets and sing some carols.

Click the image for some excellent resources for the home or classroom about the origins of Christingle, how to make them, what it all means and a whole host of related materials.


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