Church officials have defended their decision to give children glow sticks rather than flaming candles at the Christingle service in Chelmsford Cathedral.

The Christmas Eve service traditionally sees children carrying a lighted candle inside an orange, and the ceremony is the high point of the Children's Society's seasonal fundraising effort.

But fearing the risk from candles carried by hundreds of tiny children packed into the UK's smallest cathedral, the charity has suggested the congregation should use glow sticks instead of candles.

Chelmsford West MP Simon Burns said he was "very disappointed" by the decision, which he described as "political correctness gone wild".

But the cathedral has rejected criticism that it has over-reacted by dropping the Christmas tradition.

Spokesman Tony Allen said: "We don't think so as we are the smallest cathedral in the country with not enough space to safely accommodate the hundreds of pre-school children who will be there.

"Among the 700 people we expect at the service we estimate there will be around 300 children and our decision was suggested by the Children's Society."