What is Christingle? Why is it celebrated and what has a candle in an orange got to do with Christmas?
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It was a question posed on the CasualUK subreddit overnight, but one that many redditors were quick to respond to leading into a discussion about how other cultures celebrate Christmas. But the discussion surrounding Christingles all stemmed from the immortal post title - “what on earth is this thing my kid brought home?”
The post and image, supplied by Enki906, brought nostalgia to many who commented on the post about their long-forgotten experiences regarding Christingle, be it at school or at a church. The symbolic object is meant to represent and celebrate Jesus as the light of the world and its odd combination of items all have meaning to the celebration.
The orange represents the world, with the candle jammed into the orange meant to represent Jesus as the light of the world once it’s been lit. The red ribbon around the candle represents the blood of Jesus but where people are bemused by the object is why toothpicks with food seem to randomly be stabbed around the candle.
Be it dried fruit or pieces of dolly mixture pushed onto the ends of four toothpicks, these are meant to represent the fruits of the earth and the four seasons. Hence the “thing” brought home by the user’s child is a representation of Jesus around Christmas - the day of his birth.
There are some changes to the materials used at times, be it adding foil to the orange as the fruit can get quite warm with a lit candle in it through to candles being replaced by glow sticks at Chelmsford Cathedral, due to concerns of children’s hair catching on fire.
But how did Christingle become so widely popular in the United Kingdom, given its history as a holy symbol during the time of Bishop Johannes de Watteville in Germany back in 1747? Charity, of course, is the reason why the citrus based gift had taken off within England.
It was popularised in the United Kingdom by John Pensom in 1968 while raising funds for the charity The Children’s Society, who continue the Christingle tradition to this day. In 2018, over 6,000 services were held for The Children’s Society and each year, Christingle raises over £1.2 million to help vulnerable young people.
However its charitable use has become a point of contention between Pensom and the Moravian Brethren, the congregation that follow the teachings of Bishop Johannes de Watteville. They consider that part of the meaning behind the Christingle tradition is that God’s love is given freely without a person having to ‘earn’ it, rather than receive one by donating to a fundraising organisation.
Information on Christingle and locations where Christingle services are being held throughout the UK can be found by visiting The Children’s Society webpage dedicated to the tradition as they continue their fundraising efforts.