Blue Christmas / Longest Night

matariki-the-pleiades-nzThe Christmas season is not always a happy time.

The Advent and Christmas seasons can remind us of loved ones or relationships we have lost. The sights and smells of the weeks approaching Christmas, rather than bring joy and delight, can bring sadness and grief.

A Blue Christmas service provides an opportunity to address the sadness, the pain of loss, and even the anger that can accompany the season.

Thoughts of a mother who attended two Blue Christmas services and now is looking forward to a third.  She writes this after hearing that others in the church feel the service is too much of ‘a downer’ at Christmastime.

Christmas has been very painful since my daughter died.  It isn’t just the day but the many weeks before, in which wherever I go I hear people talking about their preparations.  They talk excitedly about their children and grandchildren coming for Christmas, and every time I hear them it underlines for me that the person I most want to spend Christmas with isn’t coming home.  Is never coming home.  I hear them complaining about how busy they are while I have time on my hands. I feel invisible, like a ghost at the party.

I value a Blue Christmas service.  It’s a powerful statement, because for that hour the church is willing to set aside its own busyness and show that it cares about people like me, the ones who are drowning in tinsel, as well as those who are celebrating and happy.  My pain is acknowledged, there is a space for me, too.  It can’t make it OK – nothing could do that.  But it says YOU ARE NOT ALONE in your pain, and in doing so proclaims the message of Christmas: Emmanuel, God with us.  God with us in our suffering, our pain, our poverty, our loneliness, as well as in our blessings.  It stands against the compulsory good cheer of the season which is so oppressive to those who – for a whole range of reasons – are unable to share in the prevailing mood.  It is a profoundly Christian thing to do. 

Readings and prayers focus on the “light in the darkness,” the hope of our faith, not a hope that removes the suffering, but a hope that enables us to acknowledge our true feelings and walk through the dark days without fear.  This special service usually includes an opportunity to light a candle in memory of loved ones who have died.

When held on the winter solstice, 21 December, this service might be called ‘The Longest Night Service’ or a ‘Solstice Service.’

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.

— Mary Oliver (from Thirst, Beacon Press, Boston, 2006)

Blue Christmas resources:

“The darkness is at one and the same time a comforting and a frightening place. It is the place where we dream, where our hearts and minds wander towards the divine, where we imagine what our life and the lives of those around us might one day become. It is also the place where our fears come to life, where we dread the future, worry over our decisions, and where our vulnerabilities feel most profound… Into the dark and forgotten places of our world, into the parts of our lives we fear or worry about, and into the darkness of our hearts, into the places which we can hardly bear to recognise, the light comes.”

The service includes these readings:

Wisdom 9:9-11

1 Corinthians 2:1-7

Luke 1:76-79

Isaiah 42:5-7

Luke 4:16-20

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Luke 1:26-35

Jeremiah 31:31-33

Revelation 22:1-5, 20