For many of us, the phrase “Blue Christmas” causes us to hear Elvis Presley pining the words, “You’ll be doin’ all right, with your Christmas of white. But I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.”
The phrase, “Blue Christmas,” however, can mean something far more enduring and common than the heartbreak of unrequited love. In fact, the blues are a part of the holidays that often go unnamed because to be anything but merry from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day seems to violate the spirit of the season.
And yet, the merry season of Christmas is when stress, depression, loneliness and painful memories are heightened for many of us.
The reasons are many and varied. It is the darkest part of the year, so however darkness affects one’s mood the effects are in full fury; the panoply of sights, sounds, tastes and smells constantly evoke memories sweet and painful; the bombardment of ads ratchets up the impulse to buy our way into joy, even if we cannot afford it; the stress of trying to keep up – with lists, with schedules, with performances, with gifts – sacrifices the occasional breathing space that we all need; and the constant expectation that the season should be dripping with holiday cheer does not allow us to grieve when one of the chairs at Christmas dinner sits empty this year.
Perhaps the most significant factor in creating a “Blue Christmas” is that elusive sense of what Christmas is supposed to feel like – the dreamy Christmas, “just like the ones I used to know.”
Aspiring for a Christmas that has been idealized in memory is a prescription for making anyone feel inadequate, much less holly and jolly.
The irony of this demand to be jolly is that the Christmas story is anything but dripping with holiday cheer. It is the story of a man and his extremely pregnant fiancée, having to travel from their home to their ancestral village because their overlord wants to count his imperial chips and cash in on them. It is the story of shepherds, plying their trade on a lonely hillside, keeping quiet vigil throughout the darkness and cold of night. It is about angels appearing and, in each case, scaring the bejesus out of everyone who sees them.
The story of the Magi is even more disturbing, fraught with jealousy, intrigue and terror. It is into this world of political bullying, coercive danger and ordinary people grinding it out to survive that the message comes: “Good news of great joy,” the birth of a savior.
In the end, the Christmas story is not a mountaintop experience for those whose lives have been ever onward and upward, but a welcomed light of hope for those who live in the land of deep darkness.
The Christmas season, as well as many of the other religious celebrations that occur during the darkest part of the year, certainly can be filled with good cheer and the embrace of loved ones. But, for those who find themselves struggling, for moments that are more jarring than jolly, for all of us who need comfort in these anxious times, St. Mark Presbyterian Church is offering a “Blue Christmas” worship experience at 5 p.m. Dec. 19.
It is amazing how piercing the light can be when it shines in the darkness.
MARK DAVIS is pastor at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach.