Blanche Parry

Adding a tingle to Christmas

With Christmas in mind, our local historian Ruth E. Richardson turns her attention to a seasonal custom that has its roots in the 18th Century but which has become a part of life in Herefordshire villages only in the last 40 or so years.

Three children looked at each other. Families were asked to take a gift to church but they were poor. The eldest slowly picked up an orange. It was the best they had, kept for a special occasion. They cut off the green top and incerted a small candle. The youngest tied her red hair ribbon round it so it looked festive and the middle child added dried fruit on sticks. That's the Christingle story and it sums up what is needed – an orange to represent the world, a red ribbon for God's encompassing love, four sticks for the seasons, sweets or dried fruit for the earth's bounty, and a lit candle for Jesus Christ as the light of the world.

Christingle started among Moravian Christians, whose local churches include ones in Leominster and Brockweir. In 1747 a bishop wanted to make Christmas meaningful for children. The idea was introduced to the Church of England in 1968, by The Children's Society. Many churches now hold Christingle services, with a voluntary small collection, just before Christmas.

TV advertises presents to buy, food, drink and jolly programmes to look forward to. These adverts emphasise happy family get–togethers over the holiday period ... but it isn't like that for everyone. Christmas can bring sadness too, perhaps with memories of loved ones we no longer see. Many people are on their own. Many cannot afford to spend vast sums of money. It's not so long ago that most children's Christmas stockings had an orange, a sugar mouse and perhaps one gift. Even where families do spend time together, with no expense spared, there can be friction. Happy Christmasses are not certain...

Christmas is a mixture of traditions. With dark nights the oldest is a festival of light to ensure the sun returns to help new crops grow. Carols were originally popular songs often sung in medieval pubs. Today's carol services are happy occasions, and may be sung outside around a decorated Christmas tree. You can also search out Christmas cribs in different churches. The one in Hereford Cathedral is fascinating as schools have made the figures. However, one of the best ways to enjoy the season is to go to a Christingle.

A Christingle service is fun. As you go in you are given a Christingle to hold so immediately everyone is chatting and children are excited. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. Carols are sung, candles lit and the affect is magical if, as in some churches, electric lights are turned off for a few minutes. As children are involved, the service is short and early in the evening. So, if you don't want to be out late on a winter's night, or if you want to find the real spirit of Christmas (whatever your beliefs), or if you just want to experience the colour and magic of a child's Christmas, why not go to a Christingle service? No obligation, no questions, just a happy half–hour or so. There will be a Christingle near you ... Happy Christmas from me.

©Ruth E. Richardson 2012

To find out more about Christingle visit The Children's Society's website:

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