The traditional colors of Christmas are red and green, “the holly and the ivy” of the English Carol. Then, of course, there’s “white,” of the “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” variety. And black as in the “Black Nativity” — the popular production of Langston Hughes Nativity story, now playing at the Moore Theater.
What about blue? That’s another color for Christmas, made popular by another king, Elvis, who sang, “It’s gonna be a blue Christmas without you.”
These days “blue Christmas” has taken on a life of its own as an increasing number of religious congregations offer Longest Night/ Blue Christmas services or programs, on or around December 21, the longest night of the year.
The idea of the Blue Christmas or Longest Night service is that not everyone finds Christmas the season “to be jolly.” For all sorts of reasons, people may find themselves feeling lonely, wistful, grief-laden or sad in the season of gladness and cheer.
I was recently contacted by an editor who’s thinking ahead to next year and suggesting topics for a book of seasonal reflections and meditations. She wanted to include both sides, or perhaps all the colors, of Christmas, including blue. So her list of topics for reflections/ meditations was, I thought, suggestive and interesting:
“Dreading Going Home”
“I Don’t Have Money”
“I’m Not Invited to Any Parties”
“I’m On a Diet”
“I Hate to Decorate My House”
“It’s My First Christmas Without _______”
There really are lots of things that may trigger a special sadness or grief this time of year and cast a blue shade over things. And I suspect many of you readers can easily add to the list. Another that comes to mind is, “We Just Had a Miscarriage.” And certainly the list ought to include, “I Don’t Have a Job.” Or, “The Office Christmas Party Just Sucks.”
The value of the Blue Christmas/ Longest Night services is at least two-fold. One, it gives people who are experiencing struggles around some of these issues a place to remember and be remembered, a place and time to “tell it like it is” without cover-up or pretense.
The blue Christmas tradition also reminds all of us that there are all sorts of reasons that this season can be hard; that some of the expectations and experiences that bring cheer to many, trigger different and more complicated feelings for others.
The other night I was with a group of carolers who stopped in to sing first at a retirement home and next at a low-income residential facility for people with chronic disabilities and mental illness. Christmas isn’t all good cheer in such settings. Its mixed and often poignant.
But perhaps it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that the first Christmas wasn’t all comfort and joy either. The Christmas story is a nuanced and complex one. It’s not a cover-up of all that is hard in life. It is rather perceiving an outline of grace amid life’s pain and tragedy.
Take the opening lines of Luke’s version of the Christmas Story, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Joseph and Mary made a difficult and ill-timed (at least in some ways) journey, because the absolute and oppressive power of an occupying empire and its army compelled them to do so. Moreover, shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary found themselves refugees fleeing to Egypt (this in Matthew’s Gospel) to escape the pogrom Herod had launched aimed at all Hebrew newborn boys. Their story is mirrored in that of contemporary refugees crossing danger zones and hoping to find a safe camp.
Then there’s the fact that Mary is pregnant without benefit of marriage. Initially Joseph planned to divorce her, which was what, according to cultural norms of the time, an upright man ought to have done. But Joseph decided, probably at risk of sanction and embarassment, to stand by the woman to whom he was engaged. Must have been hard for them both, in different ways. Who knows how their families reacted to it all.
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