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John 1:1-14

The talk

Christingles are visual aids in themselves.

Christingle photo

The orange represents the world, and the dried fruit on cocktail sticks represent the fruits of the earth, given to us by God. Actually the things on cocktail sticks are usually sweets, despite the phrase "the dolly mixtures of the earth" being sadly absent from most translations of the Bible.

The candle represents Jesus, the light of the world (John 8:12); the true light that gives light to everyone (John 1:9); and the red ribbon represents his blood, because he died for us.

Christingles were invented by the Children's Society and there is a section on their web site about them, including a cartoon by Dave Walker. I myself have drawn a Christingle cartoon.

If you have a Christingle service you will need a very large number of oranges, reels of red sticky tape, cocktail sticks, dried fruit (or sweets), and candles. Then you will need to explain the symbolism of the various parts of the Christingle, and what could possibly be a better way to do that than with a 4 foot diameter giant Christingle?

First things first: safety

At Christingle services small children are given oranges, into which several sharp cocktail sticks and a lighted candle have been stuck . You need to make sure that the small children are not hurt. Here are some hints 'n' tips:

  • Cut out a circle of card or aluminium foil, make a hole in the centre and push the candle through it before you put the candle in the orange. This will catch drips of wax.
  • Tell the children to keep their Christingles upright and at arm's length...
  • ...and tell them: don't jingle your Christingle.
  • Tie back long hair. Provide elastic bands for people who haven't brought one.
  • Make sure children with lit Christingles don't stand close behind someone else.
  • Keep still. Have the children stand in a big ring around the congregation, holding unlit Christingles. Then light the candles, sing a song and tell them to blow out the candles before they go back to their seats.

Making the giant Christingle

Avid readers of desert island church (if such people exist) will have spotted more than a passing resemblance to the giant Easter egg. If you have made one you can recycle several of the bits when you make the other. Or - and this is more likely - making one will completely put you off the idea of making the other.

These instructions assume that you are making a one-piece Christingle - adapt the Easter egg instructions if you need two pieces.

You need materials.

  • 2 sheets of MDF each 2440 x 1220 x 6mm thick - half a sheet will be left over for your next project.
  • 20 bits of wood 44 x 22 x 40mm long
  • 1 bit of wood 44 x 22 x 85mm long
  • 1 bit of wood 44 x 22 x 900mm long
  • Lots of screws
  • Some long elastic bands
  • Chicken wire - best to use a type with a fairly small mesh
  • Lining paper
  • Wallpaper paste
  • A large cardboard tube. Mine was 85mm diameter x 1190mm - it was from a roll of paper for an A0 inkjet plotter.
  • Orange emulsion paint
  • 4 garden canes
  • 4 oranges
  • red paper, about 300mm wide and 4m long.

and tools:

  • Jigsaw
  • Drill
  • Electric screwdriver
  • Staple gun
  • Wire cutters
  • One handed clamps like this:

And this is what you do:

  • Using a jigsaw, cut out seven rings from one sheet of MDF. I have drawn them to scale, with dimensions and everything, in this pdf.
  • Cut rings 1 and 2 to form three 120° sections.
  • Also using the jigsaw, cut out six ribs from the other sheet of MDF. Again the pdf has a scale drawing showing dimensions. Type A and type B ribs have 'feet' on the bottom to stop the egg falling over. So that all the ribs fit on half a sheet of MDF, I've shown two of the feet cut out separately from the type B ribs.
  • Fix the feet to the type B ribs using screws.
  • Cut small slots in the rings and the ribs so that you can slot them together (see diagram). In theory these slots should be 6mm wide and 25mm long, to give 50mm overlap. In practice your measurements will be out somewhere and you'll need to make some of the slots a bit longer to get things to fit. Slots only work away from the ends of the bits of ring - in the other places you need bits of wood to join the sections of MDF together.
  • Fix the 40mm long pieces of wood to the ribs. They are needed at the bottom of the type A and type B ribs. Hold them in place with your one-handed clamps while you drill pilot holes and put the screws in.
  • Assemble all the ribs and rings. It helps to have someone else to hold things while you do this.
  • Stand the type A and type B ribs up vertically and fix rings 3 to 7. As you fix each ring you might need to 'ease' the slot joints on the previous rings (ie disengage them a bit).
  • Then screw rings 1 and 2 to the bits of wood on the ribs...
  • ... and finally fix the type C ribs, slotting them in from inside the rings.
  • If the slot joints are a bit loose, put a screw in the back of the rib and pass a long elastic band from the screw, round the front of the ring and back to the screw.
  • Drill holes in eight of the short bits of wood. The holes need to be slightly larger than your garden canes. Fix the bits of wood to the ribs where the cocktail sticks would be on a 'real' Christingle.
  • Assemble the various parts that hold the cardboard tube 'candle'. The 900mm long piece of wood is screwed across ring 5. Round off the ends of the 85mm long piece so that it fits inside the tube and screw it to the middle of the long part. Screw the rectangular bit of MDF with a big hole in (part D) to ring 7. Put the tube through the hole.

candle support

At this point it looks brilliant and you will feel very pleased with yourself. Make the most of this feeling; everything is about to get much worse.

Really you need to do this next bit in a garage or large workshop with a door that is more than 1.22m wide. If you work in the house you will make a terrible mess and take up far too much room (unless you live in a stately home or something). I don't have a garage or a workshop or a stately home so I worked out in the garden where it was November and cold and damp and windy.

  • Cover the frame with chicken wire, stapling the wire onto the side of the rings. Wear work gloves so you don't scratch yourself, and make sure that there are no stray bits of wire pointing outwards where they could injure people.
  • Start at the front. You will need several widths of chicken wire, and you'll need to make them narrower at the top and the bottom so you don't have too many layers overlapping.
  • Push and pull the chicken wire to get a nice curved orange shape. Spend a bit of time on this - the smoother the curves, the better the Christingle will look.
  • Cover the chicken wire with papier maché. How easy it is to write this! How long it takes! Your Christingle is 1.22m across and has a surface area of over 4 square metres. It needs to be covered with several layers of papier maché, using dozens of narrow strips liberally coated in wallpaper paste.
  • The first bits need to be wrapped around the chicken wire, trapping the end like this:

fixing paper properly

  • If you just fold it over one bit of wire and try to stick the paper back to itself it will spring away and won't be properly fixed:

papier mache not properly fixed

  • Eventually the whole Christingle will be covered. Make yourself a cup of tea. Have a chocolate biscuit. You deserve it.
  • When the papier maché is dry, paint it orange.
  • Paint the tube white, like a candle.
  • Poke holes through the papier maché for the garden canes and put oranges on them for the fruit of the earth.
  • Wrap a bit of red paper round the Christingle, for the ribbon.
  • You'll need to take the Christingle to church in a large van. It's 4 feet across and won't fit in your car (unless you have a very big car).

After the Christingle service, remove the wire netting and papier maché, and throw it away. Tidy up all the staples that have fallen on the floor, dismantle the frame and save it for another time (or to make a giant Easter egg).

exploded view
'Exploded' view of the frame. Actually the (vertical) ribs go inside the (horizontal) rings but this makes the diagram less clear, and more difficult to draw.


rings ribs
Rings and ribs, and how they are cut from one and a half sheets of MDF. There are 1:10 scale drawings, with dimensions, on the pdf.

elevation joint
Elevation drawing, and a slot-type joint. Where the end of a ring section meets a rib you need to screw a piece of wood to the rib, and then screw the ring to the wood. The bits of wood are those small dark rectangles on the elevation.

The complete frame, in our utility room, where it is now impossible to reach the washing machine. I have made the frame in two halves, with four ribs - six would have been better. Also the rings are not circular as they should have been, but 12-sided.


holder for 'cocktail sticks'
These small pieces of wood support the 'cocktail sticks' (actually garden canes). You can see that I used 3mm thick MDF - 6mm would have been better.

'candle' holder
Bits of wood to support the 'candle'. The arrangement is different to the written instructions on this page, partly because I made the Christingle in two halves.

frame with chicken wire
This is the frame, out in the garden, covered in chicken wire.

with some papier mache
Here I have started to cover the chicken wire with papier maché.

more papier mache
What feels like many hours later, it has acquired more papier maché. It really did take a very long time to cover it completely. By then it was dark and I was so fed up with it, and cold, and wet, and covered in wallpaper paste, that I didn't take any more pictures.


Desert island church by John Parker. Contact me via the about page. Text and images copyright © 2016 John Parker www.desertislandchurch.co.uk.