I live in Southern California just a few miles from the site of the San Bernardino shooting that took the lives of 14 innocent people. The news coverage of the shooting has blanketed the headlines in large print, overshadowing all other events. It hits you like a cold slap in the face. “How can this happen?” you ask yourself.
This is the time of year for peace and goodwill. This is the celebration of light and love. And yet tragedy happens. For many the approaching holiday does not bring with it the joy and happiness that is advertised on television or in greeting cards. The tragedy in San Bernardino brings home to us the fact that even during this time of joy and renewal, people are suffering loss and sadness. They may be facing a holiday after the death of a loved one or after a divorce. Perhaps they have been unable to have a child, or have suffered through an emotional trauma. Or perhaps they feel pressured and overwhelmed by holiday preparations. For them, the holiday is the most difficult time of the year.
Who doesn’t remember the sad strains of Elvis’s “Blue Christmas”? For many of us, the song is a melancholy reminder of those who are gone or must face the holiday far from home or loved ones. Most of us collect memories around holidays and seasons. For those who have experienced loss or hardship, there is a sense of absence during this time of year. The memories are still there, but the human beings are missing or the rituals have changed.
Across the country churches and houses of worship are starting to recognize the need for Blue Christmas services. These are sometimes called the Longest Night services because they tend to be held around the time of the winter solstice with the least amount of daylight of the year. On this night, we remember those for whom the holidays are not joyful; they are lonely, in mourning, feeling alienated and cast apart from family celebrations. They are experiencing depression and sadness and yet are often compelled to “put on a happy face” for others, denying their true feelings. On the surface, they go through the motions. They put on a smile and pretend all is well. They may even attend a holiday party, but their heart is not in it.
These services provide an uplifting experience to remind us of the love we had for those who are no longer with us. They also provide a time to show support for those who are grieving or just a time to escape the stress and commercialization of the holiday. It’s a way to celebrate quietly with a focus on light and warmth and comfort. Such services are reflective, accepting where we really are, and holding out healing and hope. They remind us that even though it is a dark and difficult time, there is always light.
I urge you to remember those for whom this holiday is not a joyful time and reach out to them with hope and understanding. Be the candle that helps to light their way out of the darkness.
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