Christingle, Christmas and Covid challenges
Rev'd Zoe King, Parish of Tongwynlais, reflects on the challenges Covid has had on Christmas celebrations this year.
Navigating Covid and the church calendar has made 2020 an ‘interesting’ year, shall we say. Easter was celebrated online and we kept setting ourselves targets and then having to break them as Covid restrictions and 2020 got in the way.
Throughout the year I have been saying to myself whatever else happens we’ll still have a form of Christingle service on Christmas Eve.
Like many parishes, Christingle is a service like no other. Here in Tongwynlais you can guarantee the church will be full on Christmas Eve. Over the course of the service the figures get placed into the crib as we retell the Christmas story. At the end, as all the candles are lit, the lights are turned off and in the candlelight a holy hush descends.
It is quite simply something incredibly holy, beautiful and much loved.
We knew we couldn’t do that this year so we put our thinking caps on. We looked at holding it outside in a nearby beautiful place - then the restrictions on the number of people gathering outside came into play. So we decided we could do a couple of different services outside the church. We had already planned to create Christingle packs so people could come and collect before hand to make their own Christingle.
"My heart broke a little bit at that point"
Then yesterday after a lot of thought and concern about rising Covid numbers and the church having a role in modelling safe behaviour, I said to the PCC and Wardens, ‘I don’t think we should go ahead with Christingle’.
In truth, I only got to the word "ahead" and all of a sudden I could feel myself on the verge of tears. Kind smiles and a deep breath later the one thing we had hoped would go ahead we were now admitting shouldn’t. I know my heart broke a little bit at that point.
Advent 2020 has meant that for all of us we have had to change plans and instead work out what we can do. As a parish we have cancelled services and events and made sure there is digital provision. At least the Christingle packs will be still available for people to collect.
We will still celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, so why on earth did the cancelling of this one thing floor me so much?
Whatever happened this year I was determined we would have the Christingle experience. However, if I’d stepped back I might have realised I was clinging on to something past reasonable consideration.
We don’t know when Caesar Augustus called the census in relation to Mary getting pregnant. If it was called after she found out she was going to have the baby, she may have already made plans for the birth. Her pregnancy, let’s be honest, had probably created quite a bit of gossip so she may have wanted to be in control of everything around her.
She may have planned to have her mother with her, or even her cousin Elizabeth, who understood all the was happening far more than any one else. I’m not sure she would have planned to be in a stable with man she was betrothed to and no one else.
If the census was called after her pregnancy started, Mary would have found herself having to navigate an already strange situation and would have probably felt more and more out of control. Whilst we may feel frustration at is what happening around us, or held on to plans for too long, Mary and Joseph find themselves in a completely alien landscape. Looking for somewhere to stay, obeying the Roman authorities and giving birth to the Son of God.
Christingle is beautiful, but in telling the story of the birth of Jesus we skip over the painful, difficult bits.
Mary, heavily pregnant, on the back of a donkey doesn’t sound much fun. Cut to Joseph looking after the donkey and Mary trying to find a room at the inn.
In reading the gospel we find them in a stable and the baby has been born. I'm sure for Mary it wasn’t a matter of arriving at the stable and then the baby conveniently arrives like a parcel from Amazon. Mary went through labour - we just don’t talk about it. She went through physical pain, literally blood, sweat and tears, to give birth to the Son of God.
So in our own way, in the parish, we join Mary in our own sort of pain before the joyful celebration. Cancelling Christingle is hard. 2020 itself has been hard and yet, in a strange sort of way, this Advent offers us a profound perspective of waiting in difficult times.
All of us have had to make changes, take different roads and make difficult decisions. Maybe this Advent then we are just a little more like Mary and Joseph.