“Merry Christmas” or “happy holidays” are probably the most common expressions heard this time of year. Greeting cards come in the mail proclaiming, “Joy to the World.” Shoppers, meanwhile, are crowding the malls in search of gifts that will bring feelings of delight to their recipients.
Unfortunately, not everyone can share the emotions expected at this time of year. Some people are dealing with problems that negate the cheery holidays, things such as:
• The death of a loved one
• Facing life after divorce or separation
• Coping with the loss of a job
• Living with cancer or another serious health condition.
In 1957, Elvis Presley released a hit recording titled “Blue Christmas,” a lament about a broken love affair during the holidays. This title has lived on, and a number of churches representing many different denominations have adopted it as the name of a special worship service that offers hope to people living through painful times.
These liturgies have a quieter, more somber feel than traditional Christmas worship. Scripture, music, meditations and sermons focus on the comfort God offers during dark times.
A United Church of Christ pastor in Massachusetts said, “For people who are grieving or are in some kind of pain, there is so much forced joyfulness at Christmas. There is no sort of sacred space for grieving.”
A Church of England vicar agreed, citing the importance of being able to “seek out a worship which isn’t resolutely upbeat.”
Some congregations call them Blue Christmas services; others term them Longest Night services because they are traditionally held on or near the winter solstice – literally the day of the year with the shortest amount of daylight (Dec. 21 in the northern hemisphere).
Cultures throughout history had festivals of light during this time of year. It is cold, dark and much of the vegetation is dormant with few flowers and little greenery. Ancient customs have included celebrations meant to entice the sun to return to the sky overhead, leading to warmth and the rebirth of spring.
A number of rituals have developed. One popular liturgy used in the United Kingdom involves use of an Advent wreath and empty cradle. Participants write the names of loved ones or situations causing pain on strips of cloth and place them in the cradle, reading aloud what is on them if they wish. Then the candles on the wreath are lit during a series of brief prayers.
Morgan Hill’s Advent Lutheran Church (16870 Murphy Ave.) invites any locals who would like an opportunity to engage in worship while acknowledging sadness or other difficulties they are experiencing during this holiday season to its Blue Christmas Service at 7 p.m. Dec. 17. It will be a time to receive hope and comfort despite personal adversity.
Although the church has not held this service for a few years, it was decided to offer it again this year at the suggestion of parish associate the Rev. Lee Tyler when she became aware of the many people in the community who might be served in this way. For more information, call (408) 779-3551.
For Blue Christmas service resources, visit davidkeen.blogspot.com/2009/