I was born and raised a Methodist, so the liturgical calendar was, for me, something that happened to other people. Sure, Christmas and Easter were the two big services of the year, and other traditions had developed over the centuries – Covenant Sunday, Harvest Festivals, Ladies Day – but ask me when the 12th Sunday after Pentecost was and I’d’ve looked at you as if you were crazy. Heck, I always got a little confused about Pentecost itself.
I’m getting old though, and I’m beginning to appreciate the quirks of the Christian year, especially the smaller, quieter festivals, the ones I’d never heard of. That’s why today I’m thinking about Blue Christmas.
Blue Christmas is an acknowledgement that the festive season isn’t, for a lot of people, the most wonderful time of the year. For many, this will be the first Christmas spent alone, or without a loved one. There’ll be an empty place at the dinner table, one less present to buy and unwrap, a tangible emptiness in the room as the Queen’s Speech comes on. Loss and absence are amplified, just as much as peace and goodwill.
So many churches will be holding services to support those who’ve lost family and friends over the last twelve months. And it feels right that these services are held on the longest night, because that’s when loss is often at its most brutal, in the quiet, in the dark. These are the times we need a flickering candle to light the way out of the night.
So we remember our individual losses, but maybe, as communities, this is also a time to remember those losses that shook us corporately. David Bowie. Jo Cox. Terence Crutcher. 50 people killed in Pulse, 12 people killed in Berlin. There’s a communal aspect to all this, and it’s political and social, but it’s also spiritual – how do we perceive other people? How does the dehumanised way in which others are treated scar our communities and our souls? How the hell do we stop things like this happening on a weekly basis? These are everyday questions, sadly enough, but on the longest night we need to see that candle again.
I think, deep down, there’s a reason we seem to hold all our services of remembrance in the dark, cold months. Maybe that’s when we need them most. And so maybe that’s when we most need to remember each other, to remember those who’ll be shedding tears this Christmas, to hold in our hearts those that most need to experience the hope and peace that the season promises. These are things that can’t be forgotten behind the tinsel and 24/7 movies about Santa falling in love. These are difficult days for many and that’s when we need to stand together, standing in the dark, following a star till morning.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.