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Blue balloons for a Blue Christmas

Dr. RB McFee


Normally when we think of balloons we think of celebrations. Rarely would we associate them with a Blue Christmas. And yet maybe we should.

Let me back up a minute and put some context into this before connecting a tradition dedicated to those who grieve, and the healing power of Jesus.

The other night I was watching a Christmas movie. Not sure what of the title. The story involved someone who lost her husband shortly before Christmas, and was facing the Holidays with profound grief. Through some loving but not so gentle prodding (what close friends might refer to as emphatic encouragement) the widow attends a support group.

Over several sessions, the leader helps the attendees look at their loss, and focus on what is left – friends, health, family, that Christmas can still bless.

Towards the end of the movie there’s a town festival, and a Blue Christmas ceremony to usher in Christmas where each member of the group is given a blue balloon, and told it represents what has caused such deep heart pain, soul darkness, grief.

The leader reminds the members they are releasing the loss, not the love or loved one behind the grief. They will always stay with and be part of us, but the pain we start to let go tonight.

And with that, all the blue balloons are released; an important first step in letting go.

A bit simplistic? Maybe. Necessary, especially at this time of year? Yes. And symbolically powerful? Absolutely!

“Blue Christmas”

For those who are unfamiliar with Blue Christmas except for the song made famous by Elvis, (although performed by others before him), it is a special church service dedicated to those who grieve, who mourn, who have heavy hearts at Christmas.

These services date back to the 1990’s in the United States, according to various sources. Usually held near the winter solstice - the longest night of the year, and the darkest of the 365 days, it is a tradition observed in both Catholic and Protestant faiths.

Of course I didn’t know much about Blue Christmas until several years ago, when my ‘holly, jolly ho ho ho’ decided to go, go, go.

Loss has a way of doing that to people, even ones who have a predisposition to being merry and bright. Sometimes the dark night of the soul all but extinguishes our spiritual candle, and the light gets very dim inside.

It is in those dark times when everyone else seems to wear a halo bright enough to rival a light house, many of us get good at borrowing a flashlight, and faking a little light, even if it isn’t from within.

Why? Heaven forbid we let anyone know we are hurting. And there are many reasons for that. Pride for starters. Who wants to display weakness? Who wants to part the veil in terms of image, or public persona?

But worst of all is the underlying disapproval society sometimes gives to folks who don’t share in the merriment. It is often subtle, but the vibe is ‘get over it,’ or ‘pull yourself out of it,’ or ‘where is your faith in Jesus… can you be sad, don’t you believe in God and His Presence?’

Be honest – how many have had these thoughts, even transiently when meeting someone who wasn’t exactly playing Jolly Saint Nick at Christmas, who wasn’t sharing your mirth, who wasn’t egg nogging it up enough, and forgot to bring the emotional marshmallows to your spiritual hot chocolate? “What a buzz kill person,” right?


Truth be told – folks look at Christmas from a very different perspective when loss isn’t part of the equation.

To be sure everyone suffers loss – financial, career, death, illness, the list is long – but if you aren’t currently in the midst of a sorrow from one cause or another, count yourself blessed, and realize your perspective on Christmas, and the festivities you are enjoying may not be someone else’s experience this year. It may have been at one time, but not this year.

Disclaimer….I’m not into guilt – so believe me I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone who is having fun this Christmas. Thanks to my faith, and great friends, I’m enjoying the Season, too!

Yes at one time I held a VIP ticket to Blue Christmas services, and thankfully found my way back to the sense of Christ in Christmas, and His Peace on earth.

Sadly, when I attended the services, I had no idea the people around me were suffering some way or another; people who by all outward appearances were the last folks I expected to be there.

One thing came through powerfully looking around; Blue Christmas service was a place where we belonged. It was ours. Jesus hadn’t abandoned us because we weren’t jingling bells or going thumpity thump with Frosty. He was there grieving with us, too. He was the One handing out the balloons!

At Christmastime especially we need to look for folks who need a blessing in our midst; those financially challenged, are sick, shut ins, just lost someone, may spend their Christmas alone, in hospital, or other challenges. At Christmas we may need to pay closer attention to those we know, and try to look beyond the public persona. A Blue Christmas has many causes. Fortunately most aren’t difficult to figure out.

Just ask yourself what would make you sad at Christmas, and look for those who fit the situation.

Yes we are all busy at Christmas. But human kindness doesn’t take a lifetime to do; how long does a call, a cupcake, a bit of caring really take? A well timed cup of tea, phone call, email, visit, can do more than one would ever expect.

There is a reason suicide – both attempted, and completed – increase dramatically at Christmas; speak about the ultimate blue Christmas for them, and those who loved them but never suspected. What if that person had received a call of compassion?

What I am suggesting is that there are those among us who love Christmas, but have had an unexpected detour from, and been temporarily taken off the joy land express. They need help finding their way back to feelings of “God bless us everyone,” and “A Happy Christmas to all.”

Perhaps some among us haven’t quite found the blue balloon to release up to Heaven. Can we help them?

As a physician, I can tell you the freshest wounds are the most painful. Who do you know who got a bad diagnosis, or just lost a loved one? Or perhaps suffered a significant financial loss, and cannot provide for family? Maybe it is someone who no longer has family, or is far away from those who used to make up the Merry Christmas gatherings.

Charles Dickens in the beloved story A Christmas Carol reminds us that Christmas is a time when want is keenly felt; perhaps more than at any other time of year.

Why Blue Christmas?