UNITY — Elvis sang, “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.” The phrase struck a chord with the world, and Blue Christmas services have been a tradition in churches and communities for many years now.
The first this writer ever attended was in Saskatoon, about thirty years ago. That one was sponsored jointly by the host church and a funeral director. The idea is to acknowledge the grief people feel when they have lost a loved one and are approaching the holiday season with some very shaky emotions, longing for happiness at Christmas but lonely for the ones who are missing.
In Unity, the ecumenical service is held at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. It is now named the Christmas Service of Prayer and Remembrance, but follows in the tradition of Blue Christmas, or Longest Night services.
The atmosphere is sombre but beautiful; it’s very Christmas-y but with a very clear acceptance that everyone is not in a jolly state of mind as the holiday approaches. There are too many empty chairs around too many tables, and being in community with others who are grieving is a very helpful experience. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community with open arms to heal and soothe the pain of loss.
As Pastor Ron Rutley noted during this year’s service, normally folks would gather in the lower hall to visit and enjoy lunch, but not this year; but at least we had a service, having cancelled in 2020.
The first time the service in this form was held in Unity was in 1997, initiated in part by Bea Boser and Pastor Bryan Schindle. Previously there had been services done by Doug and Myra Busby as well.
The planning committee, headed in recent years by Yvonne Wiesner, attempts to involve all the local churches, members and clergy, and local funeral directors — now Gerein Funeral Services — sponsor and help plan. There have been years when there would be several hundred folks attending but that wouldn’t have been possible this year, with the requirement that we be distanced from one another.
The sanctuary is beautifully decorated with Christmas trees and poinsettias, and candlelight helps create a reflective atmosphere.
A gathered choir of singers help with the singing of the hymns and before the service there is a wonderful program of songs and instrumentals by local musicians, offering beautiful songs of hope and longing and Christmas joy.
One of our local doctors is invited to open the service with words of welcome and a prayer. Scripture readers are chosen to represent local congregations. Guest speakers may be clergy but have included many local families who have experienced grievous loss and are able to share their faith, and all that helped them along their healing journey.
Attendees helped decorate the tree with ornaments brought from home — but for many years the funeral directors provided ornaments which people could take home for their own trees, with names on them to honour those we had lost. This writer has about a dozen of those, which elicit tears in the decorating of the tree at home.
An important ritual in the service is lighting votive candles in memory of those whose passing we grieve. There are tears glistening as folks file to the front of the sanctuary to add their lights to the many others on the table. More lovely music from violin or vocals accompanies this somber, healing candle lighting. The names of those who have passed, both those whose lives have been celebrated in funeral services in our town, and some from other communities who are missed by relatives here, are all read aloud in an act of remembrance. Prayers are offered for those grieving and those who stand by to offer support.
This is a valuable service to offer to the community, and many people are involved: some plan music programs, and play or sing; there is decorating, advertising, provision of candles and decorations, and in past years, lunch for a crowd, all donated by members of local congregations. We also must express gratitude to St. Peter’s for hosting the service each year. If you are missing someone this year—and most of us are—may you find comfort in the support offered by this community.