Blue Christmas services, or Longest Night Services as they are also called, have turned into
a vital holiday tradition for me. For years, the holidays were difficult as a consequence of tough family situations, including my parents’ nasty divorce when I was 19. The family was just never the same after that. Then tragedy struck on December 1, 2010 (this also happened to be my 50th birthday): my sister’s body was found that morning. She had passed away peacefully in her sleep the night before from natural causes. Only 45, it felt that she was ripped away from us way too soon. A mere two years later, my mother died in early December.
I had lost other people in my life but, as friends and colleagues remind me, nothing really prepares us for losing a parent or a sibling (or a child like my dear cousin, and many others, have experienced). These are relationships like no other. I still miss them tremendously. Each December, I continue to deeply feel their loss from this earth. At the same time, the Blue Christmas services help ease the burden. By honoring the difficult emotions, the ministers, lay leaders, musicians, and countless other volunteers bring us solace, nurture, and rest in these holy holiday times.
Blue Christmas Services Past
I attended my first Blue Christmas service within days of my sister’s death. My father-in-law, a retired Methodist minister, suggested I do so. He and his congregation in upstate New York had been holding them for several years. He gently mentioned that he thought they would help me. He was right! My husband accompanied me that first year at University Part United Methodist Church (UMC) in Denver, Colorado. The next year, I figured I would skip it since I seemed to be doing okay. However, year three rolled around and caught the passing of my mother. I received the added support and nurture that year at the Blue Christmas service with my surrogate daughter Mahalia by my side.
Year four, 2013, arrived before I knew it. I could no longer deny that, with the anniversary dates of these significant losses, the last few weeks of November and first week in December were very tough for me, sometimes to the point of depression. Then and now, I am calmed knowing that a Blue Christmas service awaits me to help through this annual storm. In addition to deeply desiring the nurture of the services, I never want to go alone. I am blessed that a friend or family member has always been with me. Aunt Edo, my mom’s only living sibling, went with my in year four.
In 2014 (year five), a friend’s mother passed away that May. As with my mother’s death, this one hit her very hard. She knew that the holidays would be tough. Without hesitation, I invited her to the University Park UMC Blue Christmas service. She joined my aunt and me.
In year six, just my friend and I attended. The church sponsored the special service that year but moved the location to the Evanston Center for Spiritual Wholeness and Healing.
The setting holds additional, personal connections and memories for me. During my doctorate, I house- and dog sat for the senior minister when that sacred space was a local Methodist congregation. Another year, I worked a short time for the church as their secretary. I enjoyed that close contact with that minister, a dear friend and colleague of mine. The transformation of a local congregation into a spiritual center intrigues me. I believe it is a unique undertaking plus a successful one. Each time I am there for these Christmas services, I powerfully feel the presence of God.
Blue Christmas Service Blogs (2014 and 2015)
The services address more than grief: anger, depression, loneliness, sadness. Since 2014, I’ve chosen to devote my December blogs to these gatherings as a way to get the message out. In my 2014 piece, I talk about the general holiday blues and how important these services are in the midst of what feels like forced gaiety. For those of us engaged in these struggles during what is supposed to be the “happiest time of the year,” the images in the media and somewhat crazed, manic atmosphere only worsen the alienation and inner turmoil. Knowing we have at least one special service that honors the opposite of the brilliance helps us hang on during the darkness of the holiday time. In that blog, I then describe University Park UMC’s services as well as the ones held in my father-in-law’s New York congregation. In my 2015 piece, “Blue Christmas and Longest Night Services: Bringing Solace and Healing to Those Suffering During the Holidays,” I cover several unique aspects. To begin, I discuss the history of the services in the United States and the ecumenical, shared aspects of many of them. To assist others, I share the availability of online resources for persons and groups to conduct their own Blue Christmas ministries along with a listing of specific Blue Christmas/Longest Night services throughout the country that year.
Blue Christmas Service in Year Seven (2016)
Even though time has passed, the grief for my sister and mom wash over me at the approach of these significant dates. Part of my ongoing, radical self-care strategies during this time is to attend the Blue Christmas Service. My friend from last year will join me again. The holiday remains difficult for her as she also continues to wrestle with what so often feels like the demons of grief and loss. University Park UMC will host their service at the Evanston Center, Denver, Colorado, 5pm on Sunday, December 18. To find a service near you, I encourage my readership to do an internet search on these two key phrases: Blue Christmas Services, Longest Night Services. I believe I found over 50 last year.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” promises Jesus (Matthew 11:28). The Blue Christmas services provide exactly that to so many of us during this holy holiday season.