For the past several years, I've been leading Blue Christmas services in my congregation, and this year, it's a first for Franklin Lakes UMC. A Blue Christmas or Longest Night service is a service to give a space for those who are grieving or mourning at Christmas, or for people who are just feeling overwhelmed and uncelebratory in general. There can be many reasons why we don't feel all the joy of the season we want to feel or think we should feel, and sometimes we need a place to come and put those feelings out in the open, at least a little bit.
It's easy to feel a little blue at Christmas, and this is particularly challenging if you are a church leader. (Or, as my friend's brother (a youth pastor) recently called it, "The Holiday Provider.") One of my pastor-friends writes about just wishing Christmas was over, and knowing she has to act differently.
For me, the hardest part my family celebration is dealing with changing traditions. I remind myself all the time that as much as I push for and encourage change in church settings, I really hate change when it comes to my own life! I guess we all do, and I'm exaggerating too of course. But the point is, even when we know change is good, change is hard. We have some treasured family traditions - we still read the Luke 2 gospel text on Christmas Day or at our family gathering the day after. But it's a changed tradition too - for ever and ever it was my grandfather who read this passage, and I can still hear his voice when we read it aloud, saying (to my hearing), from the King James, "And they were soar afraid." We have new traditions, like getting pajamas on Christmas Eve. We don't all want to get up at the crack of dawn to open presents anymore, and I thank God for that! We (usually) don't fight anymore over who gets to put up the last ornament on our Advent calendar.
But I think the change I like the least is that we grow up and spread out and it's harder and harder to get us all together in the same place at the same time now. My brother is married and has a child now, and somehow he thinks this makes it a good idea for him to stay home with his family on Christmas morning! Most of my extended family lives in Central New York - we're luckier than many families in that we get to see each other fairly regularly. But even so, we're having two family get-togethers this week to accommodate all the work schedules (and the stray cousin lost somewhere in Connecticut now.) I'll be meeting cousins' babies that I've never even seen before!
Still, I hope (and expect, even) to have a wonderful Christmas celebration. There is hope, thank God, in Christmas. But I think it helps for us to name, at least to ourselves, at least in our prayers, in some place, the sadness, or loss, or mourning we bring with us into the season. If we make a space for it, maybe we can make a space too for the Christ-child.