Christingle: An intergenerational Christmas Eve celebration from the Moravian tradition

The Christingle Service described on these pages is a service of light and ceremony, of song and symbol. Christingle means "Christ light," and the service focuses the congregation's attention on the hope and joy that light brings to a dark world. In the dark of winter, the coming of Christ, the light of the world, is a powerful message of hope.

A Christingle is made from an orange, which represents the world that God made, and a candle, which represents Jesus, the light of the world. (See the service for a detailed description of the Christingle symbols.) Christingles can be used in liturgical worship in Advent, as we prepare for the coming of Jesus; at Christmas, when we celebrate Christ's birth; or during Epiphany, when we focus on the revelation of Christ. The service on these pages is designed for use at Christmas, but with minor adaptations to the hymns, would be equally suitable for Advent or Epiphany.

The first candle lit in the service is referred to as the "Christ light." It should be a larger candle, clearly visible to the congregation. Churches that have Advent wreaths may wish to place the Christ light in the middle of the wreath. During the service all the Christingles are lit from the first Christ light as a reminder that we can only shine as lights in the world because Jesus is our light.

The strength of a symbol lies in its ability to communicate with people of all ages and backgrounds. For this reason, while enough explanation of the Christingle symbolism is given to point people in the direction of understanding, much is left unsaid to allow people to experience the light in the darkness.

Organizing the Christingle Service

This Christingle liturgy was developed and used at All Saints Episcopal Church, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. All Saints is a small church with a congregation drawn from many different social and cultural backgrounds. The liturgy here has been adapted as we have learned by experience what works for us.

One of the things we learned is that everyone wants to be involved in the service. The first year we tried it, we had only the children light the Christingles. But because the adults in our congregation wanted to be more than spectators, we now include them in the Christingle lighting as well.

At All Saints the children share the leadership of the service with the minister and another adult, referred to here as "the leader," who guides them through the service. In addition, we have a storyteller, an organist, a pianist, and two guitarists. One thing we know from experience is that large numbers are not necessary. All Saints has only eight children between the ages of four and thirteen and all of them take part in the service.

The Christingle prayers could be led either by one child or by up to six different children. Children could also be involved in the service in other ways, such as taking the light to the congregation or singing solo verses of carols.

Making the Christingles

We begin the service in the Parish Hall, where long tables are set up with all the necessary components for making Christingles. People start at one end with an orange and move along the tables, adding items to their Christingles (there are people at each table who explain what to do). This is an essential part of the service, bringing everyone together for an enjoyable "hands on" activity that is as much an offering to God as the formal liturgy that follows.

We do not explain the meaning of the various parts of the Christingle at this stage; those who have been a part of this service before often remember, but newcomers have to wait for the service to find the answers. (The children love to keep the secret!)

At the beginning of the service, the manger and the unlit Christ light are positioned as shown in the diagram (see below). The benches (or kneelers) are in place for the children to sit on with their music and percussion instruments. The manger is filled with sand to hold the Christingles.

The essence of the service is simplicity so that the symbol of light can speak for itself. When the service begins, the only light comes from candles along the aisles and the Advent Wreath. Gradually, Christingles are lit, beginning with the Christ light, which is the source of light for all the other candles. Some of the candles are placed together in the manger, serving the double function of producing a concentration of light and relieving the children of their Christingles fairly early in the service.

THE SERVICE

Carol: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" PsH 340, PH 41, RL 195, TH 208
(one or two stanzas)

[The children, minister, and leader enter during this hymn and gather around the Christ light and the manger.]

Greeting and Welcome

Christ has brought us out of darkness
To live in his marvelous light
Brothers and sisters in Christ, welcome to this Christingle service. We are here in God's presence, to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Together we will hear the story of the coming of Jesus, and offer our thanksgiving to God.

Carol: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (stanza 3: "Sing, choirs of angels")

Bidding Prayer

Once the world was so dark that God could hardly be seen. Then, God sent Jesus.

[The minister lights the Christ light]

Now, because God sent Jesus, everyone may see God.

[Minister children, and leader hold up their Christingles]

This is a Christingle. Christingle means "Christ light." Let us pray.

[Each child who is leading a prayer lights his or her Christingle from the Christ light before praying. This works smoothly if each Christingle is lit during the previous prayer.]

Christingle Prayers

Child 1
The Christingle is round like the world we live in. So tonight we pray for God's round world and all the people who live in it.

Amen.

Child 2
We pray that all Christians will shine with the light of Christ in the world.

Amen.

Child 3
We pray that everyone will come to know the light of Christ in their lives.

Amen.

Child 4
We pray that our leaders, teachers, nurses, and doctors will be servants of the light of Christ in this world.

Amen.

Child 5
We pray that all hungry or homeless children will find comfort in the light of Christ.

Amen.

Child 6
We pray for all people who are sick or afraid, lonely or sad, that they may be cheered by the light of Christ.

Amen.

Minister
We commend all the people we love and all people in need to God. We say together the prayer that Christ taught us:

Prayer
The Lord's Prayer

[All remaining children light their Christingles The children go to the congregation and light their Christingles, allowing the congregation to pass the light along the rows Wlien all Christingles are lit and the cluldien are bach in their places, the minister prays.]

Minister
May God our Father, who sent Jesus to be the light of the world, make us shine with his love, so that we are quick to serve, help, and comfort anyone in need, and ready to follow where Jesus leads us.

Amen.

Carol
"I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light" Hymnbook 1982 490
or "Go, Tell It on the Mountain" PsH 356, PH 29, RL 224, SFL 131, TH 224
or "Arise, Your Light Has Come" PH 411, RL 418

[The children place their Christingles in the manger during this carol.]

Litany of Thanksgiving and Lighting of the Christingles

[The litany may be spoken by the leader or minister During the litany it may be appropriate to continue, quietly the instrumental music from the previous carol.]

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
In him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The true light, which gives light to everyone,
came into the world.

Glory to the newborn king.
Jesus, the light of the world.

God is light,
in him there is no darkness at all.
Although darkness covered the earth
and the people lived in thick darkness,
God's glory appeared over us.
The Lord is our everlasting light.

Glory to the newborn king.
Jesus, the light of the world.

Jesus came to the people who walked in darkness.
He is the light of the world.
He came to his own home,
and the people did not accept him.
But to all who receive him
he gives power to become children of God.

Glory to the newborn king.
Jesus, the light of the world.

The Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a Father's only Son,
full of grace and truth;
To Jesus, light of the world,
to God the Creator, who said "Let there be light,"
to the Holy Spirit, bringing light to our lives,
be praise and glory, now and forever.

Glory to the newborn king.
Jesus, the light of the world.

Explanation of the Christingle Symbolism

Christingle means "Christ light." The tradition of making Christingles comes to us from Moravia, where the first Christingle service was held on Christmas Eve, 1747. The orange is round, like the world we live in, and reminds us of the world, which God created and loves. The candle the light of the world who calls us, too, to shine as light in the darkness. Jesus is pure and holy; the white frill reminds us of Jesus' purity. The red ribbon speaks of the blood of Jesus which he shed for the sins of the world; just as the ribbon is wrapped around the orange, so Jesus' love reaches all around the world. The four toothpicks holding fruit, nuts, and candy, represent the four seasons of the year during which God provides for all of our needs, of which food is just one.

As we look at our Christingles, let us give thanks for all God's goodness to us.

Blessed are you, God of creation.
For all your gifts we give you thanks and praise.

Carol: "Christingle Carol" (sung by the children)

[The lights are turned on and the congregation extinguish their Christingles.]

The Story of Jesus' Birth

[The children sit around the manger to listen to the story of Jesus' birth. The story is told by one or more storytellers, sitting on a stool.]

The Nativity (from Luke 2:1-7)
Once, many, many, many years ago, in the country of Israel, far across the sea, on the other side of the world from us, a very special event took place. It happened when the emperor, Caesar Augustus, ordered that a census, a count of all the people, should be taken throughout the whole world. Everyone had to register all the members of their family, and they had to do this by going to the town where their great, great, great, great, great, great, ever so many great, grandfather lived.

There was a couple named Mary and Joseph, who lived in the village of Nazareth. They had to go down south to the town of Bethlehem, where King David had once lived, because he was their great, great, great, great, great, great, ever so many great, grandfather. It probably took Mary and Joseph three or four days to travel to Bethlehem. They took their donkey, which Mary rode with Joseph walking alongside. Mary was pregnant, and their baby was almost due. Joseph was sorry that Mary had to go on this long journey at this time in her pregnancy, but he couldn't leave her behind. And besides, Mary wanted to have Joseph with her whenever the baby was to be born. So there wasn't anything to do except for both of them to go to Bethlehem.

When they got there, the town was absolutely bustling with all the visitors. There were people everywhere and activities going on all over the place because everyone had come for the census. Joseph tried to find somewhere for them to stay, but every hotel and inn in the town was full. Finally, they found one whose kind owner, although he didn't have any room for them inside the inn, made a place for them in the stables. There they had a shelter for the night from the cold weather.

After the long days of the Journey, the time came for Mary to have her baby. There in the stable, with the animals in their stalls, her first son was born. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in the manger. Mary and Joseph named him Jesus, as an angel had told them to do.

Carol
"The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy" Hymnal: A Worship Book 202
or "Away in a Manger" PsH 348, PH 24, RL 213, SFL 129, TH 204

The Announcement to the Shepherds (from Luke 2:8-14)
On the hills just outside of Bethlehem there were some shepherds spending the night with their flocks of sheep. It was dark and quiet on the hillside. Suddenly, there was a great light glistening in the sky, and they saw an angel. The glory of the Lord shone on them. They were so amazed that they were very frightened. Nothing like this had ever happened to them before. But the angel said to them, "Don't be afraid. I bring you good news which will be a great joy to all people. Today, in the town of Bethlehem, a Savior has been born, Christ the Lord. This will be the sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

And suddenly there was a huge crowd of heaven's angels with the first angel, and they filled the whole sky with their song, "Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth."

Carol
"The First Nowell" PHS 56, RL 223
or "Angels, We Have Heard on High" PsH 347, PH 23, RL 206,SFL 133, TH 214
or "Angels, from the Realms of Glory" PsH 354, PH 22, RL 229, TH 218

The Visit of the Shepherds (from Luke 2:15-20)
When the angels had left and gone back to the heavens, the shepherds said to each other, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that the angels have told us about." So they left their sheep on the hillside and hurried off to Bethlehem. When they got there, they looked around until they found Mary and Joseph in the stable, with baby Jesus lying in the manger. When they saw them, they told Mary and Joseph all the things that the angels had said about the child.

Then the shepherds returned to their flocks, singing and praising God all the way back. It had been just as the angels said it would be.

Carol
"How Great Our Joy" The Baptist Hymnal 108
or "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" PsH 215, PH 58, RL 199, TH 222
or "Go, Tell It on the Mountain" PsH 356, PH 29, RL 224, SFL 131, TH 224

The Visit of the Wise Men (from Matthew 2:1-11)
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Herod was king of Israel. He lived in a palace in Jerusalem. Soon after Jesus' birth, some men who studied the stars came from the east to Jerusalem. They had seen a new and special star in the sky, which showed them that a king had been born. They had traveled a long way to find the new king. They asked people in Jerusalem, "Where is the baby who is born to be king of the Jews?"

King Herod heard about this. It made him very upset because he was the king of Israel, and he didn't know anything about any baby who was going to grow up and be king instead of him. So he called the Jewish chief priest and teachers of the law to the palace, and he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. They said, "In Bethlehem, because that's what the prophet Micah said many years ago."

So Herod called the wise men who'd come from the east to a secret meeting. He asked them exactly what time the star had appeared. They told him. Then he sent them on to Bethlehem, and he said, "When you get there, search and find the child. Then come and tell me so I can go to Bethlehem and worship him too."

Away they went to Bethlehem. The star led them all the way. Eventually it stopped just over the place where Jesus was staying. The wise men were very happy about that. They went inside the house and saw the baby with his mother, Mary. They knelt down and worshiped him. Then they opened their bags and took out their gifts—gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

Carol
"As with Gladness Men of Old" PsH 358, PH 63, RL 228, SFL 143, TH 226
or "What Child Is This" PH 53, RL 217, TH 213
or "Unto Us a Boy Is Born" RL 226

Conclusion

God our Father, you give light to this world so that it shines with your glory: lead us to see the beauty of your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, light of the world, make our lives pure so that we may shine with your light in this world for you.

Amen.

Holy Spirit, moving across the face of the earth, breathing new life and shedding new light; renew us as we shine with the light of Christ in the world.

Amen.

Carol
"It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" PH 38, TH 200
or "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" PsH 345, PH 31, RL 196, TH 203

The Benediction
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be
gracious to you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give
you peace.
And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be upon you and remain with you always.
Amen.

 

Excerpt

HOW TO MAKE A CHRISTINGLE

To make a Christingle you need

• an orange
• a sharp knife
• a white candle about 4-6" tall
• a piece of white paper 1.5" x 3"
• a pair of scissors
• a piece of red ribbon about 10" long
• four toothpicks
• a selection of raisins, popcorn, nuts, or candy

1. Score a small cross in the top of the orange with the knife, just deep enough to break through the peel.

2. Make twelve to fifteen cuts about 3/4 of an inch deep along the long side of the piece of paper to create a frill.

3. Wrap the frill around the base of the candle and push the candle gently into the orange where you made the score marks.

4. Curl the frill away from the candle to make a ruffle at the base of the candle.

5. Tie the ribbon around the circumference of the orange.

6. Slide the raisins, popcorn, nuts, or candy onto the toothpicks, covering about half the length of the pick. Since the popcorn and nuts tend to split, it helps to "grease" the pick by running a raisin up it first.

7. Stick the four toothpicks into the top half of the orange, equally spaced around the orange.

8. Hold the Christingle in the palm of the hand. It is probably wise to rest it on a napkin unless you have candles that will not drip.

This article was submitted by Kevin Hackett, a member of the Community of Celebration at Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. The community describes itself this way: "We're a religious order in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, part of the Society of the Community of Celebration, established in the Anglican Church in England and Scodand. Our roots stretch back nearly 30 years to Houston's inner-city Church of the Redeemer, and today we have communities in Aliquippa (Pittsburgh) and south London, England."