The holidays are traditionally a time of celebration and good cheer. But for many, this season of joy compounds feelings of sadness, stress, and loneliness. Many places of worship respond to those who are hurting during the holidays with what’s called a “Blue Christmas” worship service.
The Rev. Dr. Brian Bodt, pastor of Hamden Plains United Methodist Church, said his congregation will hold a Blue Christmas Service Sunday evening with New Haven’s First and Summerfield United Methodist Church. He says for some of his congregants, the Advent season and Christmas tend to magnify feelings of sadness and grief.
“The pressure of the culture to be joyful and happy and celebrative, while not a bad thing in and of itself, simply accentuates difficult times for people whether experiencing grief and loss in all of its forms,” said Bodt. “And that runs the gamut.”
From the death of a loved one, to divorce, betrayal and job loss, the Blue Christmas service is specifically designed for those suffering during the holidays.
“In a lot of ways, it’s like a funeral that is well done’” said Bodt. “It doesn’t mean that people aren’t grieving, it doesn’t mean they don’t miss their loved one, but they have a new framework for understanding that loss. And this service provides that, too. It provides a new framework for embracing the Christmas promise.”
The origins of “Blue Christmas” or “Longest Night” services as they are sometimes called are unclear. Some believe it goes back to 1990s, when hospice centers in Canada held services of healing and hope during the holiday season. Now most denominations host Blue Christmas services. Some Catholic churches have also hosted Blue Christmas Masses, even though Blue Christmas is not part of the Catholic liturgical calendar.
Services vary from church to church, but there are similar themes. Services are almost always in the evening and held on or near the winter solstice. Music is an important part; quiet, calm and reflective selections, a departure from the joyous songs and hymns of the season. The readings usually offer words of consolation and hope. And a big part of any Blue Christmas service is the lighting of candles.
“The way I introduce it is, ‘You can be lighting this candle to illuminate your own path, you can be lighting it to shed light on the loss that you’d rather not talk or feel,’” said Bodt. “But for whomever or whatever you are lighting your candle, you are doing it in solidarity with this affirmation that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.”
The Blue Christmas service at Hamden Plains United Methodist Church is Sunday evening at 6.