“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” written in 1868 by Rev. Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest from Philadelphia, has long been one of my favorite Christmas carols. Each time I hear it, I have an immediate response that is both hopeful and melancholy, which can probably sum up the holiday season for every one of us at some point in our life. Shopping lists, budgeting, travel planning, decorating, party planning, party going, and just the general busyness of this time of year can wear down even the hardiest of us.
Years ago, as my children got older and my frenzied home became a quieter place in December, I started attending a Blue Christmas service my church held, usually around December 21, the night of the winter solstice. Sometimes Blue Christmas is also known as a service for The Longest Night of the Year. By this time, I was ready for a quiet, contemplative sit in a space that I love, and also for a reminder of the reason for the season; I too am a beloved child of God.
Each year I found myself looking forward to the service as a part of my own personal holiday tradition. Some years, when I was feeling particularly blue because of a sick parent, child, or any other life stress that seems to be more prickly during this season when we are supposed to be so jolly, the Blue Christmas service became a truly meaningful part of my holiday. Other years, I simply went to church that night for the fellowship and worship.
A few years ago, when I attended a Blue Christmas service for the fellowship and worship, I was introduced after the service to a woman who was visibly upset. She had just moved to town, didn’t really know anyone, and had been diagnosed with cancer. Because I also had received a cancer diagnosis at the same time of year many years before, I was able to give her some comfort and words of encouragement. This moment will remain with me for the rest of my life, and it is why I always go to this particular service. You just never know when you might have an opportunity to comfort or encourage someone.
If your church has a Blue Christmas or Longest Night service, consider making every effort to attend. If your church doesn’t have such a service, find a church that does, or ask about starting one. Whether you are blue or not, stressed or not, you will be reminded of the love that surrounds us all, and you may simply need to be present for someone else. You just never know.
If you or someone you know is having a difficult time during the holidays, I recommend the following book as a helpful resource: Blue Christmas: Devotions of Light in a Season of Darkness by Todd Outcalt.
Lauren Ward serves as a Ministry Engagement Manager for The Upper Room, primarily focused on marketing Upper Room Books and Discipleship Resources.
The Upper Room invites you to participate in the Blue Christmas video prayer service. A “Blue Christmas” service may also be known as the “Longest Night” service. This service is especially designed to give voice and hope to those who are grieving or who are experiencing loss. Join us in this prayer service, lifting up any darkness you may feel to the God of Light.