The Cathedral, siting in the heart of Canterbury, is often the focus for community events and celebrations. December is by far the busiest month of the Cathedral calendar for services, and we are delighted that a number of these are community celebrations. Two of the more established are the St Nicholas’ Festival Parade and the Children’s Society Christingle Service.
Now, in its eighth year, the St Nicholas’ Festival Parade is a fun and lively community parade, the purpose of which is to welcome the start of Christmas and raise money for worthy charities. The annual event took place this year on Saturday 8th December and saw hundreds of children and musicians take part. The great procession started at Canterbury’s iconic Westgate Towers at midday; with Canon Jim Rosenthal dressed as St Nicholas. It wound its way through the historic cobbled streets of the city, spreading festive cheer to all, while raising money for charity. Just over an hour into the event, the parade made its way to the Cathedral and the celebrations continued into the Nave, where hundreds of people attended a short service, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Music was provided by a variety of talented community musicians under the guidance of the Peter Cook’s Big Bash Music and carols were sung with enthusiasm and gusto. After the Service, free hot chocolate was provided and St Nicholas handed out presents in the Cathedral shop.
Now in its eighth year as a registered charity, the St Nicholas’ Festival was founded to increase awareness of the life, history and traditions relating to St Nicholas and to raise money in aid of organisations and charities that benefit young people, both locally and further afield. Since 2005, it has raised over £55,000 and given grants to 21 different children’s organisations and charities. Each year the volunteer trustees nominate the organisations to benefit from their fundraising but they also try to give small emergency grants when disaster strikes. This year the nominated charities are Canterbury Rising Sun Women’s Refuge, a group helping women and their children seeking refuge as well as those needing help in the Community, and Dandelion Time, a Maidstone based children’s charity helping those with extreme personal difficulties including violence and self-harming.
The Parades have always been keenly supported by Archbishop Rowan Williams and he has rarely missed one. His wife Mrs Jane Williams has been the Patron since the charity was formed and has generously allowed the use of Old Palace for social events.
One of the objectives of the Saint Nicholas’ Parade and the Festival charity is to give City and Cathedral a chance to work together. That is epitomised by the Lord Mayor, Archbishop, and the Dean greeting St Nicholas at the Christ Church Gate.
Towards the end of December another inspirational community event will be held at the Cathedral in aid of the Children’s Society. For more than 40 years a Christingle Service in support for the Children’s Society has been held at the Cathedral. This year the beautiful candle lit service will be held in the Nave on Friday 28th December at 15:00, and children of all ages will be very welcome.
The Cathedral is not alone in its support; last year an estimated 6,000 Christingle celebrations took place across the country, raising over £1.2 million for vulnerable children. The Christingle is a popular children’s service -it is estimated that over half a million children take part in the celebration during the traditional period from November to February. At Canterbury Cathedral, it has traditionally always been held on Holy Innocents’ Day, the 28th December. The Archdeacon of Ashford, the Venerable Philip Down will be preaching this year and pupils from Tenterden Church of England School will be participating in the Service.
Christingle originated in 1747 as a custom of the Moravian Church and was introduced to the Anglican Church by The Children’s Society in 1968. No one knows for certain when the word ‘Christingle’ was first used or from what it is derived. Various suggestions have been made. One is that it comes from the old Saxon word ‘ingle = fire’ and means ‘Christ-fire or light’. Another is that it derives from the German ‘engel’ or ‘kindle’ (a diminutive of ‘kind’ = child) to mean Christ-angel or Christ-child. The Christingle itself symbolises the Christmas story. The world (represented by an orange) which God created and filled with good things (symbolised by cocktail sticks with sweets) which sometimes becomes a dark place by the failure of people to love another. The world has been transformed forever by Jesus’ birth, life, and teaching. He is the light of the world (represented by a candle) and his love (shown by a red ribbon) demonstrates how we should love each other.