I’ll have a blue Christmas without you
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you
Decorations of red on our green Christmas tree
Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me
The song Blue Christmas, most famously recorded by Elvis Presley in 1957, is a perennial favourite at this time of year. It’s a song of unrequited love in which Elvis gives voice to a jilted boyfriend bemoaning his sadness at being alone at Christmas and resenting the object of his affection for being so unaffected (“You’ll be doin’ all right, with your Christmas of white”).
But the phrase Blue Christmas has taken on broader meaning. More than just referring to lonely ex-boyfriends, it describes the way many people feel during the so-called festive season.
In fact, according to Psychology Today, nearly half of us actually dread the holiday season:
“…according to the National Institute of Health, Christmas is the time of year that people experience the highest incidence of depression. Hospitals and police forces report the highest incidences of suicide and attempted suicide. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression. One North American survey reported that 45 percent of respondents dreaded the festive season.”
To back this up, another survey of men found that 48 percent said they feel low in December with 45 percent saying their worries were the most troubling during the festive period compared to any other time of the year.
Around 37 percent say they feel lonely during a time that is traditionally spent with friends and family and 30 percent say they are stressed and anxious due to relationship and financial difficulties.
It seems that an awful lot of us can sing along with Elvis, “But I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas.”
For this reason, a number of churches in the northern hemisphere have identified December 21 as an evening for a Blue Christmas church service. Sometimes called a Longest Night service, it corresponds to the shortest day of the northern year, a time when night falls earlier than at any other time, when darkness seems to be ever-present.
Writing about Blue Christmas services, Jim Taylor says,
“Christmas can be a painful time for some. It may be the first Christmas without a loved family member who has recently died; it may be a time that has always been difficult.
“The constant refrain on the radio and television, in shopping malls and churches, about the happiness of the season, about getting together with family and friends, reminds many people of what they have lost or have never had. The anguish of broken relationships, the insecurity of unemployment, the weariness of ill health, the pain of isolation – all these can make us feel very alone in the midst of the celebrating and spending. We need the space and time to acknowledge our sadness and concern; we need to know that we are not alone.”
I live in the southern hemisphere, so the idea of the longest night doesn’t really apply, but there is still a need for people to gather during advent, to pray with others, to hear scripture, to acknowledge that God’s presence is for those who mourn and those who struggle.
The message of Christmas is that God’s love comes to shine light into our darkness. That knowledge might not eliminate the darkness you’re struggling with now, but I trust it reminds you that God knows the despair, the pain, the anguish you’re currently enduring.
The story of Bethlehem is for you, even as you wrestle with the pain growing inside you, even if you cannot fully put that pain into words.
God’s love is extended to those of you who have been abused. Whether as children or as adults, the trust you gave to others was violated. You have been hurt, physically, emotionally, sexually. You have lost confidence in yourselves; you cringe away from any threat. You stand on the edges of any group, and when you try to move to the center, you feel as though you get elbowed out of the way.
God’s love is extended to minorities. Whether newcomers and immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers, you are strangers in a foreign land. And those of you who are the original peoples, who extended hospitality to the newcomers, and found yourselves in reservations and missions, you struggle to discover your dignity among alien customs, among values that are not our own.
God’s love is extended to those who grieve. A death or a loss has changed this day. Once, Christmas was a special day for you too. But someone has died. Someone has left. You have lost a job, a dream, a goal, a cause. You find yourself adrift, alone, lost in a terrifying new world. This season reminds you of all that used to be, and cannot be any more.
God’s love is extended to those who suffer from mental health challenges. Whether depression or bipolar or anxiety or any other disorder, you find your condition affects everything, from how you think and feel to your moods and perceptions to how you behave and engage with others. You feel so impaired, so misunderstood, so alienated. Sometimes you feel ashamed and broken. You are as afraid of the future as of the present.
The original Christmas story was told to outsiders — to shepherds, who were considered the scum of the earth; to gentile pilgrims, regarded by the religious elite as unclean; and to a fragile young woman, teetering on the edge of a society that had no room for unwed mothers.
Jesus came to make his home among the broken.
At points in his life he was a refugee, an outcast, and a wrongly accused prisoner. He was called a heretic and a drunkard. He was misunderstood, maligned, and betrayed. He grieved and felt lonely.
As you hear the sounds of celebration, the jingle of cash registers, the rustle of wrapping paper, this year, remember it is alright if you feel you have nothing you can give, and if you have no one to give anything to.
This is your longest night.
Lord, you who were so acquainted with suffering, please be near us all this season, especially those for whom this is a painful time. We ask it in Jesus’ name.
For worship leaders wanting to hold a Blue Christmas service this Advent, here is a simple liturgy written by Heather Hill.