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Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Christingle

In my discovery of Christmas traditions, I came across one which is more European than some of the others and hasn't really taken hold in the U.S., but it had some deep meaning which I think was pretty neat.  It is something called the "Christingle" - something originating in the Moravian church in Germany around the mid-1700's.  It seems the minister of the local church wanted to give the children something of an object lesson so he took small candles and tied red ribbon around those candles.  As the children would light those candles during the Christmas Eve service, he planned to use those to teach the lesson of Christ being the light of the world and that his light could illuminate their hearts if they would let him in.  

I am the light for the world! Follow me, and you won’t be walking in the dark. You will have the light that gives life. (John 8:12 CEV)

As with many customs or traditions of the Christmas season, this one kind of took on a different appearance over the course of time.  Today's celebration of the Christmas Eve service in some European countries and other churches who use this symbolism to represent the introduction of the Light of the World into their services has evolved into what is a candle placed into an orange, the red ribbon tied around the circumference of the orange, with four sticks pointing (one in each direction), with fruit and nuts on the ends of those small sticks (toothpicks).  Each of the parts represents something quite lovely, so this is why I wanted to share this tradition with you.  If you don't use this in your church family celebrations, you may just want to incorporate it into your family celebrations as you consider the story of Christmas.

- The orange:  Round as it is, it represents the world.  The use of the orange is to call attention to the fact Jesus came into this world - not afraid to take on human form in order to accomplish the task which no other could accomplish - our complete redemption from sin.  I think it is important to start with the orange in our explanation because Jesus came INTO the world - he didn't take us out of this world - he met us right where we were (are). 

- The candle:  A small hole is made into the top of the orange and the candle is inserted into that hole.  The symbolism speaks for itself - Christ came INTO the world.  He brought his light into a very dark place - not fazed by the "acidity" of this sinful world.  I know this may not be the original meaning of the orange, but when I think of the orange and its peel, I am struck by the sheer acid content of both.  Our sinfulness really creates an "acidic" environment for Christ to dwell, but he is not afraid to bring his uprightness, purity, and light into the midst of our "acidic sin".

- The red ribbon:  It encircles the orange, giving the symbolism of Christ's blood shed for all the sins of ALL of humanity.  As scripture declares, "God so loved the WORLD that he gave his one and only Son..."  It stands to reason that a love like this would encompass the entirety of humanity!

- The small sticks:  Four toothpicks or skewers are inserted into the orange, one pointing in each direction of the four corners of the world.  The represented the magnitude of God's love and his reaching grace - not content to remain within the walls of one church, but taken to all the world for all who would receive it.  Grace has a way of reaching beyond walls - beyond the walls of our churches and homes, but also beyond the walls of hurts, regrets, fears, mistrust, and the like.  One challenge our pastor gave us this holiday season was to find someone of another faith and share the grace of God with them - not in a preachy kind of way, but in the actions of love and grace.  This is how God works - not in the preachy kind of way, but in the actions of grace!

- The fruits and nuts:  They represent the fruits of this earth, nurtured by the sunshine.  I think they could also represent the fruits of grace - nurtured by the "son-shine" which is represented by the small candle in the midst of the orange.  Whatever your take on this one, you can see fruitfulness is at the root of this addition.

It may seem like a little tradition, but it has rich meaning.  We tell the stories of Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, and now The Elf on the Shelf.  What might we begin if we were to take some time this Christmas Eve to make our own small Christingle and share the story of God's love coming into this world, his grace reaching out into all walks of life?  It could revolutionize how it is we set the stage for the sharing of our gifts and the celebration of our family time!  Just sayin!