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Advent Day 25

Blue Christmas

By Mary Pandiani
Executive Director
Selah Center

…Learning to trust what emerges,
So that gradually
You may come to know
That deep in that black hole
You will find the blue flower
That holds the mystical light
Which will illuminate in you….


John O’Donohue
A Blessing for Loneliness

About thirty years ago, a new tradition began at Christmas time. In the Western Hemisphere, the night of the Winter Solstice, Blue Christmas becomes a time to honor the sadness that accompanies the season. On this day, we acknowledge those who no longer celebrate the Christmas season with us in person. Entering into a ritual of quietness, we light candles in remembrance. It’s a time to grieve amid celebration for the season.

This year, Blue Christmas touches close to my heart. Several deaths in the last few months have impacted me, most significantly a dear friend of thirty-two years and my mother-in-law of my late husband. I celebrate this Christmas without them, and it’s not easy to do so. While I can still enter the joy of the season, my heart is heavy with grief upon grief. This realization holds my attention nearly every day. Tears well up from deep inside.

I use the word “honor” in sadness purposefully. Sadness does not take away the joy from the season. Just as Mary and Joseph experienced joy and sorrow on their journey, from hearing from the angels, trying to find a place to stay for the night, and giving birth to baby Jesus. Holding both is a paradox. And I am reminded there is sadness and joy in the life story. I want to make a note of this reality and honor it.

The poem by John O’Donohue, A Blessing for Loneliness, invites me into what the darkness of grief and sadness offers. Ending with the “blue flower” in this blessing, he captures my imagination with mystical allure. In Romantic poetry, the blue flower symbolizes the artistic and emotional striving for the infinite. Connecting to Blue Christmas, I remember my longing for the infinite, even amid my sadness. Can I trust that what emerges, whether in the grief or the joy of the season, will be a gift from God? I find solace in knowing the pain I feel is equal to my love for those I miss. And could it be, from the darkness, I might know light?

This is the hope of the season and our lives; a light has been brought into the world. I celebrate the light while honoring the darkness. My prayer on the longest night of the year is to continue to learn what it means to trust God in whatever happens, whether sadness or joy.