Blue Christmas at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

The December holidays are not all joy and light. For many, it is a hard time. Some loved one will be absent from the Christmas table. Our lives don’t live up to the idealistic Christmas scenes of hearth and home. We don’t look like figures in a Norman Rockwell painting. Some suffer from seasonal affective disorders. When it seems like the whole world is happily stringing decorations, we can feel sad and out of step with the festive emotions.

A Blue Christmas service can be a holy container to honor those emotions and losses. We hold our service in the evening, near the winter solstice, when the days are shortest and the nights are long. We use the lections for St. Thomas (Dec. 21). St. Thomas was the apostle who missed the resurrection appearances of Jesus on Easter. While the other disciples were rejoicing, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas’ mind was filled with the all-to-real images of his friend’s death on the cross. “Until I see…” something as real as that, “I will not believe,” Thomas said.

We start in a darkened, quiet church. We use the Order of Worship for the Evening, BCP p. 109, as a Liturgy of the Word, lighting candles at the altar and in the windows. The sermon tries to allow people to honor the difficult work of grief and disappointment in the midst of a festive season. During the Eucharist, we invite people to light vigil candles for remembered loved ones or other appropriate intentions. We have a place for laying on of hands with prayer.

The mood is contemplative — quiet, accepting, healing. We’ve found this gentle, dark space, held within the December bustle, is a treasured holy space for tender things. For some, it is a space to place deep loss so we can open more fully to the coming joy of Christmas.

Contributed by The Rev. Lowell Grisham, Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas. lowell@stpaulsfay.org