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Recalling the Meaning of Christmas: The Christingle Celebration

by Liz Hearn

Christingle In 1749 in a church in Germany a Bishop started a Christmas tradition that is loved by children and adults, and enjoyed in Britain today and around the world. His name was Bishop John de Watteville and he led worship among the Moravian Congregation in Marienborn, Germany. He was the creator of the Christingle service. Christingle means "Christ-Light."

When the children are all charged up with energy about nativity plays, gifts and shopping, Santa Claus and parties the Christingle service is a nice way to remind them of the bigger picture of who this new baby Jesus is and what he came to do. The simple candle service that John de Watteville introduced showed children then, as it does now, that through the gift of a lighted candle we can remember that this baby Jesus brought light into darkness and through the looped red ribbon that Jesus shed his blood and died for our salvation. The Christingle has developed over the last 250 years from a simple white candle to the Christingle that is made today.

There is something special about an evening service for children. The church is decorated for Christmas and the cold and dark in the church makes the experience especially atmospheric. The service is based around explaining the symbolism in the Christingle and as each part in explained the Christingles are assembled. When all is assembled the lights in the church are dimmed and the candles lighted. Each child is given a Christingle candle to take home with them. The candle light on the excited children's faces is a beautiful sight. In John de Watteville's day it is recorded that the children tried to keep their candles alight the whole way home.

The use of the service was spread throughout the world by the Moravian church and has been celebrated in many countries including the USA. In 1968 the Christingle Service was brought to the Anglican Church of England, its use promoted by The Children's Society. This charity works in the UK with children at risk of homelessness on the streets, disabled children, children in trouble with the law, and young refugees. The Society encourages churches and community groups to have a Christingle service and the donated offering is often given to the Children's Society to support their children's work throughout the year. They also have a website where Christingle services that are planned can be registered. If you are looking for a service near you, this is one great way to find where and when they are happening all over the United Kingdom. The service was created on 20th December 1749 and it is now often the service held the last Sunday evening before Christmas or on Christmas Eve.

How to make a Christingle

Christingle orange
  • A sweet, juicy, shiny orange represents the goodness of the earth that God created.

  • Four sticks (cocktail sticks or tooth picks) are put into four corners of the top side of the orange. These represent the four seasons of the year.

  • Onto each stick is threaded dried fruit like sultanas or raisins. This represents all the goodness of the fruit of the earth and the richness of animals and birds that God has provided on his earth. Sometimes we use small jelly sweets or candy.

  • A red ribbon wrapped around the orange and fixed in place with a pin represents the blood of Jesus who died for the salvation of the whole world. In the Moravian tradition today a ribbon is looped around a candle at its base.

  • The white candle is placed in the very top of the orange into a pre-prepared hole. Sometimes some foil is used to help fix the candle into position. This candle represents Jesus, the light of the world, God's son. In the Moravian tradition it would be made from beeswax and would also represent Christ's purity, as this type of candle burns cleanly.

A modern British Christmas is secular in so many ways. Putting the "Christ" back into Christmas is an important part of the history of this festival period in England. Christianity might not be your thing; however, everyone is welcome to witness and take part in this traditional service.

More Information:

The Children's Society

Directory of Christingle Services

The Moravian Church in North America

Liz Hearn is a British freelance writer from the Wirral. She writes children's articles and travel articles. Her articles have been published in Transitions Abroad and Highlights for Children. She lives overseas with her husband and small daughter and currently lives in Beijing, China.

Article and photos © 2005 Liz Hearn


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