The Reformed Church of Saugerties will be holding a non-denominational, secular “Blue Christmas” service at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 19. The service is open to the public and is meant to acknowledge and help those who suffer during the stereotypically cheery holiday season.
Since the end of October, holiday music has drifted through the aisles of supermarkets and retailers, smiling couples and children have been unwrapping presents in television commercials, the usual holiday specials have aired and kids have come home from school with handmade ornaments and gifts. As the windows get a bit frostier each morning and more and more trees are bagged and strapped to car roofs and set up in living rooms, families anticipate the parties, gatherings and multiple excuses to eat and drink coming around the corner. While we’re all bombarded with holiday imagery and sounds, less attention is paid to the pain the holidays bring — the higher rates of drug overdoses and drunken driving accidents, the sadness of missing loved ones who’ve passed on or are estranged, and the suffering of those with depression and seasonal affective disorder.
Pastor Ruth Kent, who came to town two years ago from the D.C. area, first learned of such services when she served as a spiritual counselor for a retirement community five years ago, and the idea resonated with her. Often called “The Longest Night,” the practice is typically celebrated on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
Kent has perfected the elements of the service, down to the decorations and imagery that will be displayed.
“There’s an element of hope that [the sadness] will end. Not too strong — you don’t want to take away that acknowledgement, but I try to use kind of visible symbols of that,” said Kent. “For lighting, everyone will have a chance to light a candle for whatever their thing is, and I have them in a big tray with dark blue sand but silver glitter mixed in. You have little tiny points of lights reflecting out of the darkness.”
Kent has selected a secular, modern music playlist for the gathering, including familiar artists like R.E.M. — who hasn’t dejectedly listened to “Everybody Hurts” at some point in life? — Mumford and Sons and Leonard Cohen. Rather than a sermon or Bible verses, Kent has curated a collection of poetry readings, from 19th-century verse mogul Alfred Lord Tennyson to contemporary poets like Jane Kenyon, who wrote of bucolic scenes, changing seasons and the travails of deep depression.
Kent, for example, lights two candles for two of her young, deceased relatives, and another for “all young mothers who died of cancer.” Attendees will be given the opportunity to share their losses and grievances, should they wish; there will also be a call-and-response portion of the service.
In addition to Blue Christmas, the church, at 173 Main St., will be holding a “brief and informal” worship service at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 23, followed by a free chili lunch to thank the community for their support. The meal will be followed by a Christmas program and a group carol-singing session.