Churches try to take the blues out of the holidays

The Black Friday shopping rush started before Thanksgiving. Some retailers are keeping doors open around the clock now through Christmas Eve. In this hurry-up season, a different Christmastime trend has quietly taken hold, one acknowledging the sadness many feel.

Area churches, more each year, are holding Longest Night or Blue Christmas services. Most coincide with the winter solstice, which comes Saturday.

“It is a trend — a trend for the better. The more services, the more people are helped,” said Mary Case, an organizer of a Longest Night service at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mill Creek’s Advent Lutheran Church.

The Everett woman helped start the service after her mother died several years ago. Facing Christmas without her mother stirred overwhelming emotions. “This was something I could do,” she said.

“We bring into our service not only the loss of loved ones, but sometimes the loss of employment or a marriage,” Case said. “We all miss some memory we have. Sometimes we’d like to go back to those times. Even something small, a scent, can trigger a memory bringing a wave of sadness.”

At Advent Lutheran’s Longest Night, people are invited to light candles in memory of loved ones. Everyone is greeted with a gift, a prayer shawl to wrap around their shoulders.

At Everett’s First Presbyterian Church, Saturday evening’s Blue Christmas service is new this year. “I think more and more churches are doing it. This is our first year,” said the Rev. Alan Dorway, pastor at First Presbyterian.

The season’s commercialism “doesn’t fill the void,” Dorway said. “When people lose a loved one — when you are not able to give that person a gift, or have a meal and share in the joy — there’s an element of sadness,” he said.

Dorway knows he isn’t alone in dealing with the changes life brings. “Personally, this year has had a lot of ups and downs,” he said.

Rather than the frenetic focus on gifts, he cherishes meaningful moments spent with others, and tranquil times to reflect on the season’s true meaning.

He remembers a Christmas when his father told him there would be fewer presents under the tree than in past years. “My brother and I were sort of puzzled,” Dorway said. “A Blue Christmas acknowledges that sometimes smaller gifts are more meaningful.

“As people of faith, we believe the gift came as a little baby, new life through Jesus,” Doway said. “A present can be great, but this year I would rather have that gift of time with people.”

The service at First Presbyterian will also include a chance for people to light candles. “If they so choose, they can say something. If they don’t want to share, they can just light a candle,” he said.

Blue Christmas is also a time to remember homeless people and others struggling financially. Dorway is also participating in a homeless memorial event scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today near his church and outside the Snohomish County Courthouse, 3000 Rockefeller Ave.

The National Coalition for the Homeless founded the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, recognized annually on Dec. 21. “On the longest night of the year, most of us are able to go to a nice warm bed. But there are hundreds of thousands who are living below the poverty line on that long night,” Dorway said.

Case has learned that picture-perfect images of Christmas shown in magazines are neither attainable nor what the season is really about.

“The Christmas after my mother passed away, I got pneumonia, but I needed to be the matriarch. I needed to present this front,” Case said. Trying to create the ideal holiday, she asked her son which type of cookie “really said Christmas.”

“He lovingly touched my shoulder and told me ‘It’s not about what we eat, it’s not about how the house looks. It’s who I’m with,’” she said.

At a Blue Christmas or Longest Night service, those who feel alone in their sadness are not alone.

“It’s important to share the grief,” Case said. “I needed to be with people who understand.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Blue Christmas events

These churches have scheduled Longest Night or Blue Christmas services:

United Methodist Church, Edmonds: Longest Night, 7:30 tonight, 828 Caspers St., Edmonds. 425-778-2119.

First Presbyterian Church, Everett: Blue Christmas, 7 p.m. Saturday, 2936 Rockefeller Ave. 425-259-7139.

Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett: Blue Eucharist, 7 p.m. Saturday, 2301 Hoyt Ave. 425-252-4129.

Advent Lutheran Church, Mill Creek: Longest Night, 7 p.m. Saturday, 4306 132nd St. SE. 425-337-5373.

United Methodist Church, Stanwood: Blue Christmas, 7 p.m. Sunday, 27128 102nd Drive NW. 360-629-9555.

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