Every Christmas Eve, for as long as I can remember, has been bathed in a glow of candlelight, surrounded by the scent of fresh oranges.
You might recognise the Christingle Orange – the large fruit with a red paper frill, a candle pushed into the middle with dried fruit and sweets skewered into the flesh of the fruit. It’s originally a tradition of the Moravian Church – the church I was raised in – and it dates back to 18th Century Germany. Since then, it has been adopted by a number of other faiths and denominations as a symbol of Christmas.
Every Christmas Eve, my family and I gather together in the Moravian Church in the village with these oranges. Whether you stayed in the church or not, everyone comes back for Christmas Eve. As we’ve all grown up and spread around the UK, the Christingle orange has become more than just a sign that Christmas is coming, but a reminder of the brief moments where we’re all together.
There’s something about the candlelight at dusk fading into the Christmas carols that are sang around us that takes you out of yourself, a brief moment of calm and timelessness before you go back into the real world. One tradition blends seamlessly into another, as we stay together to celebrate my Grandad’s conveniently timed Christmas Eve birthday.
We collect the oranges at the end of the service and prepare them for breakfast on Christmas morning. The sharp citrus scent, no matter where I find it, takes me straight to Christmas morning, and the childlike anticipation of Santa’s arrival.
This will be the first year in my life that there is no Christingle service to go to, and I don’t think I realised just how much it meant to me until now. It’s a palpable absence at the end of an impossible year. Like so many others, my family can’t celebrate in the way we’re used to, and it hurts that there’s nothing we can do about it. But although traditions are important in the festive season, they don’t have to be necessary components. Things might look different this year, but we can still try and enjoy the festive season in new ways, readying ourselves for a return to normal life in the coming years.
Photo courtesy of Kyle Head