Home » Blue Christmas services help in a season that isn't always jolly

Blue Christmas services help in a season that isn't always jolly


NORTH CANAAN — A holiday tradition at North Canaan Congregational Church has been the Blue Christmas service, set this year for Dec. 9 at 4 p.m. at the East Canaan church. The Rev. Barbara Schenk will officiate, and is joined this year by the Rev. Rosalie Richards of Christ Church Episcopal in North Canaan and All Saints Chapel in Cornwall.

Those who have not been to this service tend to believe it is an alternative service for those not in the mood to celebrate. That is partly true.

"It’s aimed at supporting or acknowledging that it’s a tough time for some," Schenk said. "It can be about yourself, someone close to you or the world in general."

Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one or other tragedy during the holidays is likely to be melancholy. Loneliness, especially when one is apart from family or a special person, is particularly trying. Even while the holiday lights twinkle and cheer abounds, it is the time of year when depression usually hits hardest, Schenk said.

Schenk introduced the service when she came to North Canaan seven years ago. She has conducted the service at churches since 1994, and finds each one different and uniquely inspiring. It has its origins in the Whole People of God Sunday school curriculum from the United Church of Canada. It has quickly grown, and is now offered by denominations across the United States.

"It’s not a sad service," Schenk said, "but a more quiet way of acknowledging Christmas. It’s okay not to be overjoyed. It’s about finding out where you fit into the holiday season."

Richards sees the clergy’s role as offering "a quiet sense of peace, which though it is often not seen, is a central part of the season."

To her, it is not only about offering solidarity with people, "but also to express a sense of something good that is waiting for us regardless of whether ‘Jingle Bells’ speaks to where we are on the road."

Blue Christmas offers another perspective on the real meaning of the season.

"It’s good to remember that while we are buying gifts and celebrating, others around the world are experiencing war and other terrible things," Schenk said. "It was not a jolly time in Israel when Jesus was born, and it’s not a Christmas world. Everyone is not celebrating, and God did not wait until the world was perfect to come into it."

Schenk has watched Blue Christmas worshippers find comfort in simply knowing they are not alone in their pain or grief. She has seen them find ways to cope.

The service includes some of the more serene carols and a candle-lighting from the Advent wreath. Each person chooses to light their candle from one signifying hope, love, peace or joy.

Instead of a monetary offering, the plate is passed for slips of paper with prayers written on them. "At the end of the service, everyone takes someone else’s. We put them on our refrigerators where they become our prayers and inspirations."

Prayers run from the very personal to pleas for solutions to world problems. Schenk has seen whole lists of prayers. Often, people ask for strength to do what they need to do to address their issues.

A litany used in this year’s service was written by the late Madeline L’Engle, a Goshen resident who wrote many well-known novels, including "A Wrinkle in Time." It is called "First Coming" and includes this line: "We cannot wait till the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice, or to share our grief, to touch our pain."

The service is appropriate for preteens through adults. All are welcome.

To learn about support groups designed to help with depression during the holiday season, turn to page B4.

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