If you’re alone this holiday season, you may want to check your bulletin boards or your local paper for Longest Night services, also known as Blue Christmas.
A growing trend over the past two decades, Blue Christmas can bring peace to anyone who’s sad to be single, a victim of divorce, abuse, or other family trauma, simply stressed out, lonely, depressed, or grieving for loved ones who are gone. Coming home for the holidays isn’t always what people in these situations look forward to.
This year, Blue Christmas has a special meaning for families and friends of children and educators murdered en masse at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, as well of all of us who join in their grief. Joy and celebration are hard to come by in the context of such a slaughter.
Blue Christmas gatherings are just what many people need. They unite those who suffer for many different reasons. Religious denominations even adapt traditional liturgies to help those in need.
“The long night time and darkness can add to the glum a lot of people already feel,” said the Rev. Dr. David Parker of Galesburg, Illinois. “The season is supposed to be a joyous occasion, but a lot of people do not feel that way, due to situations that may have happened in their lives. We do this for the community, so they can come pray and still be part of the holiday season, while having their feelings recognized.”
Highland Sixth Presbyterian Church in Highland Heights, Ohio, supports people who give care to relatives in their homes or nursing homes and assisted living. The church gives a special party during the week between Christmas and New Year’s for people to mingle and receive both informal support and congregational prayer.
At Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas, Blue Santas from the police department share gifts for almost 200 kids spending their Christmas away from home in the hospital.
Bellarmine University, an independent, private, Catholic university in Louisville, Kentucky, held a Blue Christmas Mass last Christmas Eve for the first time at Our Lady of the Woods Chapel. Three hundred people came to the service.
“It was overwhelming,” the priest said. “We were not really prepared for what showed up. We were putting up chairs as people were coming in…. It’s a comfort to a lot of people [for whom] a very upbeat, celebratory Christmas is like salt in the wounds.”
Other churches in Kentucky and Indiana at Henryville, Otisco, Salem, and Jeffersonville, areas in or near the path of the deadly March 2 tornadoes, also scheduled services this week to focus on that disaster.
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, in Rochester, Michigan holds a ‘Hope for the Holidays’ meditative service with candle-lighting, communion, prayer, and anointing.
The United Church of Christ of Forest Grove, Oregon, started their annual event in 2004. Services feature meditation, worship, song, and prayer. Each person attending wears a navy blue prayer shawl knit by another member of the congregation.
Since 1975, a group called the Stephen Ministries, based in St. Louis, Missouri, has helped more than 11,000 congregations implement Stephen Ministry. These congregations represent more than 150 denominations and come from all 50 states, 10 Canadian provinces, and 23 other countries.
Gifted, trained, committed lay people in this group minister to hurting people inside and outside the congregation. Suffering alone is not an option. The Stephen ministers aid local pastors, who were previously the congregation’s sole caregivers. Lay people giving such comfort experience tremendous spiritual growth through their ministry and leadership.
Everyone can offer caring services around the winter holidays. After all, ’tis the season.
Chicago-based science writer Sandy Dechert recently covered Christmas around the world with a reading from A Child’s Christmas in Wales and holiday slide show. She has also reported on Hillary Clinton’s recent illness, the BMT that saved Good Morning America cohost Robin Roberts, Aimee Copeland’s struggle with necrotizing fasciitis, the brain cancer affecting Mary Tyler Moore and Sheryl Crow, and the “good cancer” Brooke Burke is living with.
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