childrens society christingle song

Children’s Society Christingle song fails to mention God, Jesus – or anything particularly Christian at all

You are probably familiar with Christingle and may well know about all the Christian symbolism which it represents.

It’s generally pretty widely recognised that the candle inserted into the Christingle orange is symbolic of Christ, the light of the world; the red ribbon represents his blood, shed on the cross; and the orange points to the world for which he died. The sweets or dried fruits are held to symbolise either the four seasons or indeed the whole of creation.

The all-encompassing nature of this symbolism makes it surprising, to put it mildly, that a new Christingle song released by the Children’s Society makes no reference to any of it whatsoever. There is not a jot nor a tittle that alludes to Christ the light of the world, the cross or any of the other things. It also makes no mention of God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit.

The song – called ‘Light a candle’ – is described by Rev’d Mike Todd of the Children’s Society as “the perfect way for your church to come together and experience the magic of Christingle”. It has been composed to mark the 50th anniversary of the Children’s Society bringing Christingle to the UK.

But why would a church want to sing something which seems to miss the whole point not only of the Christingle itself but also the central purpose of corporate Christian worship – namely to worship the living God?

You might ask what is in the song instead. Here are the full words:

My heart was a darkness with no light to guide it.
The night was starless, was starless and black.
My doors were all closing; no moon on my path.
The wind was a lost voice calling.

No child should reach out their hand and find nothing.
No child should ever be left in the snow.
No child should be empty. No child should be hungry.
No child should feel alone.

When the candle was lit and my hand was held tight
then I held a worldful of sweetness and fruit,
and the snow in the moonlight was diamonds,
and the soft wind whispered you’re home.

A new day is coming, a river is flowing,
though the forest is silent and still.
Beyond the horizon, a new sun is rising,
and I’m one of a million stars.

When the candle was lit and my hand was held tight
then I held a worldful of sweetness and fruit,
and the snow in the moonlight was diamonds.

Other musical pieces have had no problem conveying the symbolism of the Christingle in song. Basil Bridge’s hymn ‘It’s rounded like an orange’ says the candle tells “how Jesus came to bring a dark world light” and the ribbon “reminds us… how the Shepherd… gave his life to save the lost”. It concludes: “We come with our Christingles to tell of Jesus’ birth, and we praise the God who blessed us by his coming to this earth.” Spot on!

Despite the absence of Christian references in the new song, the Children’s Society says that Christingle services are “an opportunity to bring your whole community together, to share the Christian story”. But the song itself isn’t going to help much with that, is it?

Mr Todd has described the song as “unique”. Unique it certainly is – though sadly not in the sense he may have intended. While the sentiments of the song in relation to children are worthy and well-intentioned, and not anything anyone would wish to disagree with, it does all smack rather of ‘motherhood and apple pie’.

The Children’s Society website says that as an organisation it “has grown out of the Church’s ministry with and for the poorest” and as such has “deep roots in the Gospels”. The website also rightly points to how Christ’s ministry “proclaims hard truths which disturb the powerful and the comfortable”. It seems, though, that the Children’s Society would regard any reference to God, Jesus or indeed the gospel as too difficult or sensitive a truth to allude to in its own song. So much for disturbing anyone.

Imagine if churches were to adopt this approach more widely. Let us say they are going carol singing round their parish, for example. If they followed the mindset of the Children’s Society it would be far too challenging to mention Jesus or anything like that. Perhaps we would end up with:

While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night
All seated on the ground;
It all seemed very nice and quiet,
The sheep were safe and sound.

Or how about:

Hark your local choirs sing
Words about all kinds of thing;
Lyrics that are bland and mild –
We don’t want you to be riled.

One doesn’t have to construct a song full of hardcore Christian dogma in order to convey, sensitively, something of the love and beauty of Christ, especially when the Christingle candle points explicitly to him as the light of the world. There’s also the fact that Christingle services invariably take place in the Christmas season which marks his birth. All in all, it’s an open goal – but the Children’s Society seems to have decided to take the ball and play in a nearby park instead. The Children’s Society states:

Our charity was founded in 1881 by Edward Rudolf, a Sunday school teacher, and our partnership with the Church has been of central importance ever since. Our current Vice-Chair of trustees is the Bishop of Stockport, Bishop Libby Lane. We work closely with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, who are honorary presidents of The Children’s Society. We also work with bishops and senior clergy across the country. Our partnership working extends to Church of England schools and to the networks of children’s work advisors and youth officers.

Maybe some of those bishops and clergy should now be asking some rather important questions.

David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A