It’s not the most wonderful time of the year
December 2, 2018
The holidays have been difficult for Christine Caton ever since her mother died — three days after Christmas. As an only child, with her father already gone, Caton experienced profound grief in losing her mom. The Christmas season only accentuated that grief.
The year after her mother’s death, Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Waterford, Connecticut, where Caton’s parents were members, offered a Blue Christmas service. Caton, a Presbyterian pastor herself, now retired, had never heard of such a service. She went anyway.
“I went as a person who really needed to be there,” she recalled.
On the night of the service, Caton entered a sanctuary lit only with a few candles on the Communion table. Beautiful music played and comforting Scripture passages were read.
“I really appreciated the service,” Caton said. “It was simple, and the feeling of being in the sanctuary was like being enveloped in the Spirit amid the dark.”
Blue Christmas services, or Longest Night services as they are sometimes called, offer an alternative to the joy of the seasonal celebrations for those who find themselves in places of darkness due to loss of a loved one, depression or other difficulties. Longest Night services are held on or around the winter solstice — when darkness lingers. For those who find themselves in a long, dark night of the soul, such services can offer a glimmer of light. Caton said a highlight of the service for her was the prayer shawl those attending received.
“To me, being wrapped in the prayer shawl signified that people were praying for me, as they prayed over the shawls while they knit them — a symbol of the community praying for one another,” she said.
For Caton, the Blue Christmas service was a way of acknowledging her grief. It provided her a way to connect with God through her tears.
“Sometimes, I think, on Christmas Eve we don’t acknowledge our pain, as services tend to be more upbeat. But it’s hard to be upbeat and happy when you are grieving,” she said. “You need to have a space to have the tears and the anger and all of that when you are grieving.”
Erin Dunigan, PC(USA) Ordained Evangelist, Founder of Not Church, Freelance Writer and Photographer
Coping with holiday blues
- Keep expectations for the holiday season manageable
- Make a list and prioritize the most important activities. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.
- Remember that the holiday season does not automatically banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely. There is room for these feelings to be present.
- Let go of the past. Don’t be disappointed if your holidays are not like they used to be.
- Do something for someone else.
- Enjoy holiday activities that are free, such as driving around to look at Christmas decorations
- Don’t be afraid to try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a way you have not done before.
- Spend time with people who are supportive and care about you.
- Find time for yourself. Don’t spend all your time providing activities for your family and friends.
Source: The National Mental Health Association
Blue Christmas Liturgy
The following are examples of prayers to incorporate in a Blue Christmas service. These were written by parish nurses at First Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The complete order of worship can be found at presbyterianmission.org/resource/blue- christmas-service-wholeness-and-healing
Call to Worship
Today we come looking for the Christ Child.
We come, bringing our hurts, our worries, our fears.
We come seeking relief from pain. With the psalmist of old we say, “O Lord, you are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living. Give heed to my cry, for I am brought very low.”
Intercession for Healing
The God of strength moves within us;
the God of courage hears our distress.
The God of hope reveals wholeness to us;
the God of healing touches us when we are broken.
When the pain overwhelms us, when the burden is too heavy, we turn to our God, who is sustaining and redeeming. When there is loneliness, when there is isolation,
we turn to our God, who is loving and present. For God created us, redeemed us and sustains us, and we are not alone.
Lead us in your ways, O God, and bring us your healing touch.
May the power and the mystery go before us, to show us the way, shine above us to lighten our world,
lie beneath us to bear us up,
walk with us and give us companionship, and glow and flow within us to bring us joy.
Today’s Focus: Depression During the Holidays
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
God of mercy, hear our prayer in this Advent season for ourselves, and for our families and friends who live with the struggles of illness and the pain of loss. We ask for strength for today, courage for tomorrow and peace for the past. We ask these things in the name of Christ, who shares our life in joy and sorrow, death and new birth, and despair and promise. Amen.