Yesterday afternoon, I drove myself over to a little church a few miles to the south of me and attended what is known as a Blue Christmas service. I hadn’t heard of such a thing before, but the way it was described to me by a friend, it sounded like it might be interesting.
Grief is non-denominational, so it didn’t really matter what kind of church it was or whether I had ever been there before. So, besides not knowing where the restrooms were, I felt pretty much okay as I entered and found a private corner on a wooden pew.
A Blue Christmas is a kind of service of remembrance, a service for those who are grieving, a service for the lonely who feel depressed during this “most wonderful time of the year.” It is not a morbid or feel-sorry-for-yourself kind of thing — but it IS a feel-your-feelings kind of thing.
This is the time of year when our secular society/culture slams family, food, happiness and shopping into our faces with a vengeance. It is supposed to be a time of togetherness, a time when couples and families and loved ones gather around a table and eat and drink and sing carols and then open gifts filled with stuff that has maxed out countless credit cards.
And all of this is well and good — I’ve had some good holiday celebrations scattered throughout my life — but the wretched commercialism and forced jocularity of the season often does not take into account the folks who are at painful or sad crossroads in their lives.
Ours is not a society that takes the time to grieve. There’s an implied “get over it” in the vacant eyes of those who don’t know how to respond to another’s sad situation.
So many times, Christmas often leaves a lot of folks in the dust, stumbling to find their way. A husband or mother or brother who has died, a partner who has split, an unemployment situation, a man or woman living on the streets: How are the living to cope with their losses?
Okay, so back to the service…. There were about 20 souls gathered in the small, old church. The service itself was pretty standard except that in the middle of it, we were given a little time to be quiet and think (which doesn’t happen much out in the clamorous world) and then everyone was given the option to step up to the the Advent candle and wreath and light a tapered candle of his or her own, perhaps say a prayer privately or recall a memory or silently say a few words to a lost loved one, and then set the lit candle into a box of pure white sand. And so it went, until 20 flickering candles stood clustered together.
Me, I wished my brother a Merry Christmas and prayed for healing around a past long-term relationship. It took less than minute. As the candles were lit, some joined in singing carols, some were silent and a few folks shed tears.
When the hour was up, I walked back to my car beneath a gray, cold, wet sky. I realized that none of this is really about “Christmas” per se; it’s about being fully human. It’s about acknowledging the people we miss and remembering the cherished moments in time that we shared on this Earth.
It is about taking a moment to breathe, to escape the noisy din of distractions, to love ourselves enough to grieve the people we’ve loved.
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