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!
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…..how 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?
Jesus arrived to a very dark world, where death, sorrow, pain, illness, deprivation were commonplace. It was a world without hope.
Jesus’ birth gave a ‘blue Christmas’ world light and hope; very powerful gifts.
And with hope comes a sense of peace.
That’s why Blue Christmas is so powerful. We have the opportunity to approach the manger of Jesus, the altar of Jesus, publicly – silently in prayer, or openly in petition, asking Emmanuel to take our burdens, and grief without fear of recrimination.
And, as importantly, trusting the One Who came precisely for these moments, to help us in our lives.
The power of a Blue Christmas service is in acknowledging we still cling to Emmanuel. That flicker is still within us.
By having Blue Christmas Catholic masses or Protestant worship, our congregations reveal their concern for those in pain, conveying they aren’t alone; we are a community, just as Christ wanted His people to live.
Blue Christmas can give the blessings of love. In the process helping those in pain to once again experience ‘Joyeux Noel,’ the wonder and awe that comes from the Nativity Story. Blue Christmas offers the hope of Jesus being reborn in our lives.
Christmas is fast upon us. None of us wants to squander the magic from the Star of Bethlehem. We want to worship with wonder as the Magi did, to celebrate and witness Hark the Herald Angels Sing and be on the hillside at this world changing, life changing event.
But sometimes that spiritual destination requires a long journey.
Consider this lesson from the Apostle Paul. He suffered a lot, yet found peace. How? In spite of repeatedly, publicly (he quoted it to be written down) asking Jesus to heal him, because the pain was intense, ultimately he came to the spiritual destination of trusting our Lord to provide a peace that would overcome the discomfort. Just as Jesus promised, His Grace is sufficient.
That’s what Blue Christmas services help us do. We come face to face with Jesus, and ask Him for His sufficient Grace.
True, if our loved one is dead, we are unlikely to get a Lazarus moment. But we can find God’s Grace. We may have an illness. He may not cure it, but He will give us a purpose that takes us through the pain. We can find hope.
Can we get to that point, like Paul, too? Can we hand Jesus the burden and leaving the biggest part of the pain, make the spiritual journey to Bethlehem, and let His gift, His love, His light overcome the dark night of our soul? I believe we can. Been there, done that!
To be sure in our sorrow we focus on what we don’t have at the expense of what blessings God’s given or left us with. Perhaps the gifts aren’t the same; through His Grace we’ll learn to value them.
Now some of you might be wondering why write about Blue Christmas, or having the blues at a time of year that is joyous, festive, celebratory….”Robin don’t be ‘Debbie Downer,’ talk about something uplifting.”
Grief is real. Even Jesus felt sorrow.
Consider Jesus when He just learned Herod had His friend, mentor, and cousin, John the Baptist murdered, having his head served on a platter. This occurred when Jesus and His Disciples had just celebrated good times of healing lots of folks.
What did Jesus do?
He went off to be alone. It was only His profound sense of compassion that stopped Him from completing the journey. Noticing people were following Him as He walked towards a place of solitude, Matthew writes in Chapter 14, Jesus stopped and ministered to the crowds. He let go.
Jesus also channeled His grief into good works. That is a powerful lesson.
It has been said if you want to feel better, help someone else feel better. A useful strategy, one Jesus practiced.
But pain is real and to heal we must deal with it.
Christmas is a choice; if we want the peace Jesus promises, we must let go.
To experience the magic, the majesty, the peace and the power of Christmas, allow yourself to feel the Blue Christmas emotions, release them like blue balloons, then celebrate the happiness you had in what/who was lost as you watch them ascend to the Father. Say a prayer. Recall a memory and hold it in your heart. Give what you have lost over to God.
Blue balloons for a Blue Christmas….
Christmas is the time of year for miracles. Time to let the balloons go, so that in Christ’s Power your blue Christmas can become a renewed Christmas.