The joy of the Christmas season has its limits.
For some people, all that joy – happy songs in the grocery store, series of family gatherings – brings sadness into relief.
A “Blue Christmas” service today at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church is meant to offer comfort to people suffering through the holidays under the shadows of job loss, depression, drug or alcohol abuse, and illness. Because Christmastime is a season for celebrating with relatives, it can be particularly difficult for people whose loved ones have died, said the Rev. Bill Osborne, who’ll lead the service.
“Many people – people in my own family – approach the Christmas season with dread sometimes, because the family gatherings bring to mind the family member who’ll never return,” Osborne said.
People of all backgrounds are invited to the nondenominational service. There will be Scripture readings, singing, meditative music and times of silence. A cellist will play. People can light candles in remembrance of people or things “they want to place before God,” Osborne said.
He will deliver no sermon. “I really want it to be very inviting and not preachy,” he said.
Those happy holiday songs at the grocery story can make a person feel like screaming, noted Elaine Pitzer, the deacon at St. Stephen’s. “Our culture just overwhelms us with ‘You should be joyful,’ ” she said.
The idea that you’re supposed to be happy at Christmastime can make sad people feel sadder, or guilty, Osborne said. Sadness compounds sadness.
It’s not something that congregants often bring up to him, he said. He sees it on faces during Christmas services.
He’s heard it said, after last week’s mass shootings of children and educators in Connecticut, that people shouldn’t celebrate Christmas, that the holiday lights should be turned off.
But the Christmas story has its own dark parts, Osborne said. Soon after Christmas comes the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when Christians tell the story of Herod the Great, intent on killing all the baby boys in Bethlehem because he’d heard the new king of the Jews had been born. Jesus and the Holy Family fled.“Jesus was born in a very difficult time, and he and his family were refugees,” Osborne said.
The Advent season, as observed in many Christian churches, is a time of waiting for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, Osborne said.
“We remember that we waited in terrible times for our Savior to come, and we’re still waiting for the world to be returned to its original goodness,” he said. “Jesus didn’t come when the world was all fixed. He came because the world was a broken place.”
Today’s service falls after winter solstice, the longest night of the year.
Christmas is about light coming into darkness, Osborne said.
Said Pitzer: “There’s a lot of loss and pain in life. If it’s not in our personal life, it’s in the world. We carry that with us, too. We just need a place to bring that to God, and not hide it.”