Celebrating 50 years of Christingle

Today is the 50th anniversary of The Children’s Society’s first ever Christingle Service.

The concept of Christingle was adopted by The Children’s Society in 1968 and the first Society Christingle service took place in Lincoln Cathedral on 7th December. Only 300 people were expected but as many as 1500 attended the celebration.

The Christingle service has its origins in the Moravian Church and dates back to 20th December 1747 in Mairenborn, Germany.

The language used to describe a Christingle has changed over time, but fundamentally a Christingle is a candle set into an orange, representing the world and Christ respectively. A red ribbon is tied around the orange, representing the blood of Christ. Fruit and sweets on four cocktail sticks are also set in the orange, representing the four seasons and God’s love in providing the fruits of the earth. This service was performed in local churches all over Moravia when families would gather together at Christmas time.

In 1969 seven services were conducted and in 1970 around 18 were held. According to The Children’s Society’s supporters’ magazine, Gateway, in 1970:

“The services are suitable for all the family. They include Advent hymns and carols, prayers for our work, and a purse presentation by children of the diocese. Children go forward to receive Christingle oranges and the Christingle hymn or carol is sung by the light of these alone.“

In 1989, The Children’s Society celebrated its 21 years of Christingle services with special events in Coventry Cathedral and York Minster. A giant Christingle was lit, and from this further Christingles to carry the flame from one location to the next.

By the 1990s, many thousands of Christingle services were taking place in every type of church in villages, towns and cities across the UK. These provided an opportunity for congregations to think about children and young people helped by The Children’s Society and to offer prayers and gifts to further their work.

In 1997 The Children’s Society celebrated the 250th anniversary of the Christingle tradition. An event was held at Liverpool Cathedral to mark this occasion, while a record number of services and supporters – over a million adults and half a million children – took part in the Christingle celebrations for 1997, helping to raise £1.2 million.

Christingle services are still held by the Society each Christmas and it has come to be one of the most popular events in the Church calendar. The benefits which Christingle has brought to the Society are immeasurable, not only in terms of the huge amount of donations that have been presented over the years, but also in terms of the enthusiasm, inspiration and joy which these services generate among those taking part.

For more information about Christingle Services see The Children’s Society’s website

Records featured in this blog are held at The Children’s Society Archive:

If you would would like to know about how The Children’s Society continues to change children’s lives today, visit the charity’s website: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/

© The Children’s Society

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The Twelve Days of Christmas

A festive post written by one of The Children’s Society Archive team, Clare McMurtrie.

As the First Day of Christmas, or the 25th December, draws upon us we look at twelve Christmas traditions that have formed part of The Children’s Society’s Christmas celebrations for over a century, from the time when it was known as the ‘Waifs and Strays Society’. Discover twelve festive images and stories from The Children’s Society Archive, each one representing one of the Twelve Days of Christmas (or Twelvetide), as you open our visual Christmas calendar.

Stirring the Christmas pudding in The Society's homes , c1940s

Stirring the Christmas pudding in The Society’s homes , c1940s

1 – Christmas pudding: Stir-up Sunday is an informal term in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent. The Christmas pudding is one of the essential British Christmas traditions and is said to have been introduced to the Victorians by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. The meat-less version was originally introduced from Germany by George I in 1714. Traditionally children gathered together in the kitchen of some of The Society homes to stir the Christmas pudding on Stir-up Sunday. (Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, 1989 (first published in New English Dictionary, 1917).

Children in one of The Society’s children’s homes in the 1940s alongside their Christmas tree

Children in one of The Society’s children’s homes in the 1940s alongside their Christmas tree

2 – Christmas tree: The custom of the Christmas tree developed in early modern Germany, with predecessors that can be traced to the 16th and possibly 15th century, in which devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. It acquired popularity beyond Germany during the second half of the 19th century. The photo above shows children in one of The Society’s children’s homes in the 1940s alongside their Christmas tree. (Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann (1978), Das Weihnachtsfest. Eine Kultur- und Sozialgeschichte der Weihnachtszeit (Christmas: A cultural and social history of Christmastide (in German). Bucher, p. 22.)

A large Christmas party, c1950s.

A large Christmas party, c1950s.

3 – Christmas party time: This photograph from the 1950s shows children from one of The Society’s homes enjoying tea at a large Christmas party.

Hanging up Christmas stockings, 1950s

Hanging up Christmas stockings, 1950s

4 – Christmas stocking: A tradition that began in a European country originally, children simply used one of their everyday socks, but eventually special Christmas stockings were created for this purpose. The Christmas stocking custom is derived from the Germanic/Scandinavian figure Odin. According to Phyllis Siefker, children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw, or sugar, near the chimney for Odin’s flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir’s food with gifts or candy. (Siefker, Phyllis, Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years (chapter 9, especially pages 171-173, 2006).

Children in a Society home in the 1940s receive a present from Father Christmas

Children in a Society home in the 1940s receive a present from Father Christmas

5 – Father Christmas: This fascinating archive photo show eight small children in a Society home in the 1940s queuing to receive a present from Father Christmas, who is distributing toys from a Canadian Red Cross packing crate. (© Photo Press Limited)

Two girls looking at a nativity display in one of The Society's homes, 1950s

Two girls looking at a nativity display in one of The Society’s homes, 1950s

6 – Nativity scene: The tradition of constructing nativity scenes first flourished in an Italian context in the Middle Ages, and dates back to St. Francis of Assisi, who created the first living representation of the nativity in 1223 in Greccio, Lazio. The scene designed by St. Francis lacked Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, however, and only the ox, the donkey and the manger with straw present in the cave. The first known complete nativity scene is that kept in the Basilica of Santo Stefano in Bologna. (http://www.swide.com/art-culture/nativity-scene-5-things-to-know-about-history-and-origin/2014/12/21)

Wartime festive spirit

Wartime festive spirit

7 – Wartime Girl Guides: Eight Girl Guides from Maurice Home for Girls in Ascot, Berkshire, show wartime festive spirit pulling a cart full of wood along a road in 1945.

Christmas fundraising flyer, 1890

Christmas fundraising flyer, 1890

8 – Feed My Lambs: This fundraising flyer, depicting an adult Jesus with two young ‘waifs’, was issued in Our Waifs and Strays magazine in December 1890.

Christmas flyer, December 1900

Christmas flyer, December 1900

9 – Our Family: This fundraising flyer from Our Waifs and Strays magazine in December 1900, features an angel and sleeping child. Alongside is a plea for donations to The Society’s funds to support its children.

Fundraising flyer, December 1911

Fundraising flyer, December 1911

10 – ‘A Christmas Gift’. An illustration in a fundraising flyer for Our Waifs and Strays magazine, December 1911, depicting the Dove of Peace being held by a child.

The Dove of Peace: According to the biblical story (Genesis 8:11), a dove was released by Noah after the flood in order to find land; it came back carrying an olive branch in its beak, telling Noah that, somewhere, there was land. Christians used Noah’s dove as a peace symbol.

Fundraising flyer, December 1917

Fundraising flyer, December 1917

11 – Christmas is the Children’s Festival: The fundraising flyer issued in Our Waifs and Strays magazine in December 1917, and features the Biblical image of mother and child.

Fundraising flyer, New Year 1912

Fundraising flyer, New Year 1912

12 – ‘They presented unto him gifts’: Twelfth Night is a festival, in some branches of Christianity marking the coming of the Epiphany. The Church of England, celebrates Twelfth Night on the 5th and “refers to the night before Epiphany, the day when the nativity story tells us that the three wise men visited the infant Jesus”. The fundraising flyer above was issued in Our Waifs and Strays magazine in the New Year of 1912, and is illustrated by Italian Renaissance artist Bernardino Luini’s ‘Adoration of the Magi’. (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993).

See also:

268 years of Christingle: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/news-and-blogs/our-blog/267-years-of-christingle

The Children’s Society’s Christmas Bake and Brew campaign: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-you-can-do/fundraising-and-events/hold-a-bake-and-brew

Browse through publications of Our Waifs and Strays from 1882: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/publications/waifs_and_strays/

For information about The Children’s Society Archive’s ‘Hidden Lives Revealed’ web site: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/

or you can consult the Archive’s on-line catalogue: http://www.calmview.eu/childrensociety/Calmview

If you would would like to know about how The Children’s Society continues to change children’s lives today, visit the charity’s website: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/


“An ideal home based on real home principles”, St. Mary’s Children’s Home, Eastnor: a brief history

Today we have the first in a series of blogs that take a more detailed look at the history of The Children’s Society’s former children’s homes and social work projects since 1881; here we look at the Eastnor Children’s Home, Herefordshire.

St Mary’s Home for Young Girls, Eastnor, was given to the Waifs and Strays Society (as The Children’s Society was known until 1946) on 1st June 1900 by Lady Henry Somerset of Eastnor Castle.

As a report in the September 1900 edition of the Society’s former supporter magazine Our Waifs and Strays noted, she did this ‘with characteristic philanthropy’. She had originally established the home in 1884 as a memorial to her father, as she felt that “when she lost her father, she was anxious to build something to his memory, and she felt very strongly that to build up lives was almost better than to build up any other memorial”.

Based on her experience of this, her attention was drawn to the work of the Waifs and Strays Society. She felt that the Society was successful because it embraced the idea of small family group homes rather than the typical large institutional, barrack like homes that normally constituted a children’s home in late Victorian Britain; as the 1900 report noted:

“she was sure that by that system only – by the principal of
the home – were they ever likely to bring the children they
called waifs and strays any real idea of home at all. In
speaking further in the treatment of children, her ladyship
expressed the opinion that to present to an outcast child
the ideal home based on real home principles, not
institutional life, was to do what nothing else in the world
could do.”

Excited by these ideals, she decided that the Society would be better able to run the home she had started. As the bishop of Hereford noted at a public meeting to open the home in September 1900, this home would allow the Society to take:

“up those poor little waifs and strays – like the flotsam and
jetsam of human life, tossed about and likely to be tossed
to their ruin unless someone saved them – and then, having
taken them up, they had their young lives which they would
train up to a useful and happy future.”

Twenty four girls and 5 members of staff in the garden of the Eastnor Home in 1920

Twenty four girls and 5 members of staff in the garden of the Eastnor Home in 1920

The home was opened to provide accommodation for 20 girls aged between 8 and 15 years. In 1904, it was decided to increase the number to 30, taking girls from infancy to the age of 15. It remained a girls home until 1947 when it became a ‘mixed home’ under The Children’s Society’s new policy of establishing joint homes for boys and girls – a revolutionary move that the Society advocated in its post Second World War drive to help break down the barriers of traditional concepts of child care that had persisted since the Victorian era.

It remained a family home until 1981 when it began to work with teenagers who had behavioural problems caused by distressing circumstances either in their family life or from previous care experiences. The home was closed by the Society in 1983.

Life at St Mary’s – 1900 to 1980

Education and Training

All of the children at the home attended the local school and Sunday School. In October 1900 their conduct at school was noted as being “on the whole has been extremely good”.

In 1903 the home’s management committee decided to appoint a laundry matron on a salary of ‘£18 or £20′. She was to be responsible for doing the home’s own laundry and taking in laundry from elsewhere to allow the home to earn some additional income. The aim was also to allow the “girls to be taught laundry work”.

This training work was expanded to include basket work and needlework; at an event at Eastnor in 1921, a report noted that “the girls have been taking up basket-work keenly, and had on exhibition and sale some excellent samples of Indian weaving: there was also a wide range of capital needlework”.

In the 1950s training was given to children from the home who wanted to develop a career in child care. At a meeting at Eastnor in 1954, the Home Committee suggested that “suitable girls who had been brought up in the Society’s homes should be encouraged to stay on as assistants if they were keen to do so.”

Holidays, Outings and Girl Guides

Part of life for many of the Society homes was the eagerly awaited school summer holiday. St Mary’s, Eastnor, was no exception to this rule. Among the many things the girls did during the holiday in 1917 was to spend three weeks helping a local farmer with his work, for which they were paid £7 7s 6d. In 1920 the girls at Eastnor swapped places with the Society’s Worcester Girls’ Home for a fortnight’s holiday during the summer.

By the 1950s the children were given individual holidays with either local people or their own parents or relations. In 1973 a number of children from St Mary’s went on a caravan holiday to Devon, with the children sharing a number of caravans. There were a number of outings to a football match, a visit to Paignton Zoo, and a boat ride to Brixham.

Outings were also popular. In July 1922 the girls were given a day trip to the seaside at Weston, a local person, Mrs Hillier, giving them 30 shillings to spend. In 1969 St Mary’s visited Windsor Castle at the invitation of the Regimental Sergeant Major of Hereford. During the day they also had lunch with Field Marshall and Lady Slim, which, according to one participant, included, “sausages, rolls, biscuits, and much to the delight of all of us, strawberries and ice cream.”

Christmas was always a key feature in the life of the home and generated plenty of excitement. A timeless comment was made in 1917 in Our Waifs and Strays by one of the girls from Eastnor, “At Christmas, this time being very exciting, we have great fun in the Home, making almost as much noise as we like”. This was mirrored by a report in Gateway in 1978 by a girl at St Mary’s, “About 4am we wake up and scramble out of bed, bleary-eyed and half asleep. then the discovery of the sacks of toys, which are dragged with great force and speed back to our beds. Within minutes the contents are spread out on our counterpanes. By this time everyone is awake, no matter where they hide the sacks, we always find them.

The home also had its own Girl Guide troop. The Home Committee on 13th July 1922 decided that “girls of 11 years old and upwards in the home should be allowed to join the girl guides”. In 1927 the Eastnor Home Guides won the ‘Verdin Cup’ for singing at a competition judged by the organist of Hereford Cathedral. The Guide troop and the later addition of a Brownie pack remained an integral part of the home until the 1970s.

Fundraising – Pound Days

Up until the Second World War no Society home would have been complete without its annual Pound Day. This fundraising idea, peculiar to the Society, was designed to allow local people to donate either pound weights of produce or give £1 in money. The first Pound Day at Eastnor was held in 1902 and in 1903 the Committee again appealed for “useful articles for replenishing the store cupboards. Pounds of edibles, Articles of Clothing, Utensils for the house, in fact, anything of use to the children will be gratefully be received”. A Pound Day in 1916 brought in 580 lbs of groceries, in addition to large quantities of potatoes, vegetables and fruit.

The Annual Pound Day held at St Mary's, Eastnor, 29 October 1903

The Annual Pound Day held at St Mary’s, Eastnor, 29 October 1903

Local people often held events to raise money for the home. Hundreds of fetes and jamborees have been held in honour of the home over the years. In 1920 the Eastnor Wild West Show raised money in Hereford for St Mary’s, as did the local owner of the Severn Steamers Company. In 1969 the Ledbury Round Table paid for the building of a paddling pool in the grounds of the home.

For other information about the Eastnor home visit The Children’s Society Archive’s ‘Hidden Lives Revealed’ website: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/homes/EASTN01.html

For information about how The Children’s Society continues to change children’s stories today, visit the charity’s website: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/


Merry Christmas from The Children’s Society Archive

Cover of The Children's Society's Gateway magazine, Autumn 1979, showing a girl with a Christingle

Christmas is just under a week away, and here at The Children’s Society Archive we’ve been busy thinking about the history of Christingle. The first Christingle service for The Children’s Society took place 46 years ago in 1968. Since then, Christingle services have grown in popularity and are now a familiar sight every December.

See our latest blog post for more information about the history of Christingle at The Children’s Society.

Want to take part and help support our work with vulnerable children living in poverty? Click here to find your local Christingle service.

Merry Christmas to you all! We’ll be back with more posts in the New Year.

An Edwardian Christmas

The excitement of Christmas has been building, and now it is Christmas Eve.

In Ambleside the Home is decorated with “holly, evergreens and pretty coloured paper-chains” and “how often the doorbell rings, and mysterious packets arrive!”

Whilst the children sleep the staff have been busy filling stockings with “delightful and beautiful things – apples, oranges, nuts, sugar, biscuits, and toys”.

The Gift Register for St Cuthbert’s Home for Girls in Darlington lists 3 dozen crackers, a box of oranges, turkey, a brace of pheasants, Christmas puddings and cakes, a large box of Christmas presents, 40 bags of sweets and a Christmas tree –just a few of the goodies generously donated on the days leading up to Christmas. These would be shared out amongst the children and would go towards the delicious Christmas dinner and party that was bound to follow.

Page from the Gift Register of St Cuthbert's Home, Darlington showing gifts donated by visitors at Christmas time, 1908

The staff would also give presents along with committee members, supporters, and people in the local community, such as the butcher. If there was a Christmas tree (these were sometimes donated as gift, as seen above!) the presents would be placed tantalizingly under it.

Christmas time (complete with Christmas tree and Father Christmas) at St Nicholas' Home, Byfleet, 1907

After prayers, and carols, and a church service the festivities would continue with dinner; a much looked forward to part of the day, and far from ordinary!

“Four whole turkeys with bacon galore! The former bought with special money so kindly sent for Christmas; then the Christmas pudding, of course, “all on fire” and with “something” in, which necessitated great care in eating”.

Christmas dinner at St Chad's Home, Far Headingley, Leeds, 1907

I wonder how many of us can remember something similar, or equivalent traditions, from our own Christmas or holiday celebrations?

Christmas in the Homes was a simple, happy day but it was always made to be special, with extra little treats and surprises.

(The quotes in this post come from The Children’s Society supporter magazine “Our Waifs and Strays” February 1908. Click here to see more issues of “Our Waifs and Strays”.)

Merry Christmas from The Children’s Society Records and Archives Centre

It’s been a successful year here are Records and Archives Centre, with the Including the Excluded project completed and the cataloguing of even more of our collections well underway. Time, I think, for a well-deserved celebration.

Christmas time (complete with Christmas tree and Father Christmas) at St Nicholas' Home, Byfleet, 1907

Christmas has always been a special time for The Children’s Society. In the children’s residential homes, staff would work hard to ensure that the children they looked after were able to fully enjoy and celebrate the season, as is evidenced by the decorations and the visit from Father Christmas in the above photo from St Nicholas’ Home in Byfleet.

For more Christmas-themed images from our archive, please visit The Children’s Society’s main blog where our Records, Archive and Data Protection Manager, Ian Wakeling, has shared a great selection.

From everyone here at The Children’s Society Records and Archives Centre, I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!