The name “Blue Christmas” some think relates to the 1957 song by singer Elvis Presley

Sometimes the Christmas season is just too much for people.

A loved one has died, or a marriage has broken up, or even a job has been lost. And the Christmas cheer that everyone around feels makes one utterly miserable and depressed.

Recognizing that for some Christmas is a “blue” time of year, several Anglican parishes have instituted “Blue Christmas” services.

They come under different names. “Blue Christmas” is popular, referring to some the Elvis Presley 1957 hit song of the same name – that keeps being played each year. Other names are “When Christmas Hurts” or “A Quiet Christmas.”

At St. Mary’s, Kerrisdale, in Vancouver, a Blue Christmas service has been held annually for the past eight years. It’s one of several in the diocese (see list at the end of this story).

There’s one for inmates at the Pacific Institution and Regional Treatment Centre.  “Unfortunately, Christmas is one of the loneliest times in the prison year,” said the Rev. Helen Turvo, chaplain. “Many prisoners are alone and grieving.”

In some areas, churches have come together to provide ecumenical services. The Ladner-Tsawwassen Ministerial Association is holding their annual Time to Remember service on November 29 at Cedar Park Mennonite Brethren Church in Ladner, and people from St. David’s, Delta, have been asked to participate.

But wherever there is a “Blue Christmas” service, it’s a quiet service.

At St. Mary’s there’s no organ, just a soft piano. Candles. No Christmas decorations – they’re held off for the service, although some greenery has been put up. The service this year will come on the Monday before Christmas Day, as it usually does.

The service here, one of the first, was begun by the Rev. Elizabeth Northcott. She’s helped by the parish pastoral care team, including Ruth Nichol, who has been working with the priest for many years.

“There’s a tremendous sense of peace at this service,” said Nichol. Many seniors come – but so do others – about 20 last year, often those bereaved.

The Rev. Elizabeth Northcott and Ruth Nichol, both involved in arranging “Blue Christmas” services at St. Mary’s Kerrisdale

Usually the service is attended by people who have suffered loss - of a spouse perhaps, or maybe a child. For them Christmas is just not the same. It certainly doesn’t live up to the “hype” that the secular world seems to invest in the Christmas season.

“What we definitely don’t do is simply say, buck up and let’s have a rousing chorus of ‘Deck the Halls,’” said Northcott. “What we do is allow people to acknowledge sorrows that are real for them, so they might give them to God.”

The form of the service at St. Mary’s comes from The Whole People of God church education resource. It’s a short service, not much more than half an hour. Reserved communion is available for those who desire it.

Some years there are more people at the service, some years less. “It’s not important how many people come,” said Northcott, “just that it’s offered.”

“At Christmas many feel they have to apologize for their sorrows. We don’t feel they must. We acknowledge our sorrows.”

“Then we can live into the hope of Christmas.”  

Services for those who find the Christmas season difficult

Tuesday, November 29

Cedar Park Church (Ministerial service with participation of St. David’s, Delta), 5300 44th Ave., Ladner, Delta, 7:30 pm (604 943-4737)

Sunday, December 11

All Saints’, 33077 2nd Avenue, Mission, 7 pm (604 826-2814)

Holy Trinity, 1440 West 12th Ave., Vancouver, 7:30 pm (604 731-3221)

Wednesday, December 14

St. Margaret’s, 1530 East 22nd Ave., Vancouver, 6:30 pm (604 874-5030)All Saints’ Ladner, 4755 Arthur Drive, Delta, 7 pm (604 946-8413)

Saturday, December 17

St. Helen’s, Vancouver, 4405 West 8th Ave., Vancouver, 4 pm (604 224-0212)

Sunday, December 18

St. Anne’s, 4071 Francis Road, Richmond, 7:30 pm (604 277-9626)

Monday, December 19

St. Mary’s Kerrisdale, 2490 West 37th Ave., Vancouver, 7:30 pm (604 261-4228)

Wednesday, December 21

Christ Church Cathedral, 690 Burrard St., Vancouver, 5:15 pm (604 682-3848)

St. David - St. Paul, 6310 Sycamore St., Powell River, 7 pm (604 483-4230)

St. John the Divine, 21299 River Road, Maple Ridge, 7:30 pm (604 463-5733)

St. Laurence, 825 St. Laurence St., Coquitlam, 7:30 pm (604 936-5423)

St. Dunstan’s, 3025-264th St., Aldergrove, 7:30 pm (604 856-5393)