The preparations for Christmas in the Green household really started in earnest this week. First off it was Son's Nativity, next week it's Daughter's Nativity and yesterday we hit the shops (and the plastic) hard to get most of our Christmas shopping done. Oh, and the kids met Santa Claus.
This morning we're off to a Christingle service and then this afternoon we're going round to a neighbour's to enjoy some mulled wine and mince pies. But what are the origins of Nativity plays, Christingles and mulled wine?
One man is credited with creating the Christmas crib more than any other, and that is the 13th century Saint Francis of Assissi. In 1220, Francis made the pilgrimage to Bethlehem. While there, he saw how Christmas was celebrated in the town of Jesus' birth and was so impressed that he asked the Pope if he might recreate something like it in his own Italian home of Greccio.
And of course during the Medieval period, mystery plays - with mummers acting out stories from the Bible - were one of the most popular forms of Christmas entertainment. Both survive to this day, but it is normally children who act out the Nativity story itself and not the adults anymore.
The physical form of the Christingle is an orange, tied with a red ribbon and stuck with a candle and cocktail sticks bearing fruit and nuts. It is a symbolic object particularly used in Christian Advent services, hence the name given to a particular type of religious service. The word Christingle actually means 'Christ Light'. Both the Christingles that are made and the Christingle services that take place in church, celebrate Jesus coming into the world, in his aspect as the Light of the World.
The first Christingle service was held in a castle in Germany, on Christmas Eve 1747, by a bishop of the Moravian Church known as Pastor John. He wanted to find some simple way of teaching people about the true meaning of Christmas. His solution was to prepare a simple symbol which would make the Christmas message seem fresh and alive to them. During the informal service, Pastor John gave each child present a lighted candle wrapped in a red ribbon. He then intoned a prayer.
You can find out more about the origins of the Nativity play and the Christingle in Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas, published by Skyhorse Publishing.
And if you think the idea of warm mince pies and mulled wine on a cold December day sounds like a good one, follow this link to a piece I posted last year that includes a recipe for the utterly delicious Bishop's wine.