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Christingle - The Christmas tradition that only got going in the 1960s

Christingle is a relativley new tradition that has ancient roots.

The idea of the Christingle began in the Moravian congregation of Marienborn, Germany, on 20th December, 1747.

At a children’s service, hymns were sung and the minister, John de Watteville, read verses which the children had written to celebrate the birth of Jesus. He then explained to the children the happiness that had come to people through Jesus, “who has kindled in each little heart a flame which keeps burning to their joy and our happiness”.

To make the point even clearer, each child then received a little lighted wax candle, tied round with a red ribbon. The minister ended the service with this prayer, “Lord Jesus, kindle a flame in these children’s hearts, that theirs like Thine become”. The Marienborn Diary concludes, “hereupon the children went full of joy with their lighted candles to their rooms and so went glad and happy to bed”.

The Moravian Church took the custom of this service with them to Labrador and Pennsylvania, to Tibet and Suriname, to the Caribbean and South Africa, and people in each part of the world adapted it for their own use.

But it wasn't made popular in the UK until 1968 when John Pensom, described in his Church Times obituary as "Mr Christingle", used it as a fundraising event for the Children's Society charity. Children would bring purses with money and receive an orange pierced with a candle in return. In 1972, the Times noted the increasing popularity of the services.

Over 40 years later, the charity estimates more than 5,000 Christingle events were held last year to fundraise for them. But the idea has spread further than just this charity. In Northern Ireland it has been used as a way to get the different denominations together.

In fundraising terms, the Christingle is getting more popular. The money raised went up from £1m to £1.2m in 2014, says Children's Society's director of church and community participation Nigel Varndell.

The newest variation involves changing the candle to a glowstick. It's been prompted by the concern among some organisers that children should not be carrying lit candles.

The Daily Telegraph reported back in 2006 that Chelmsford Cathedral had gone the way of the glowstick after a particularly crammed service made them worry that children's hair could catch fire!

No one knows for certain when the word “Christingle” was first used or from what it is derived. Various suggestions have been made.

One is that it comes from the old Saxon word “ingle” (fire), meaning “Christ-fire or light”. Another is that it derives from the German “engel” (angel), meaning “Christ-angel”, or it may derive from the German “kindle” (child), meaning “Christ-child”. 

But wherever the word came from Christingle is now a firm favourite at Christmastime in 21st centrury Britain.

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