As most of us make our way gleefully through the Christmas season, as we shop and set up our trees and shop and string lights and shop and celebrate with family and friends and shop and watch our favorite Christmas movies, it is easy to forget about those perhaps somewhat less giddy about the season than ourselves.
We’re not talking about those without the means to purchase expensive gifts or indulge in a Christmas feast. There are many admirable programs available to help low-income families celebrate Christmas.
But who helps those who are struggling, not with problems of the bank account, but with problems of the soul?
The holiday season can be especially difficult for those who are struggling with grief and loss, according to the Rev. Erika Hewitt, minister of the Damariscotta-based Midcoast Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
“For many people, the holidays center around family and traditions, and so they pull us backward in time, inviting us to remember celebrations past,” Hewitt said. “That can make new losses or absences feel more stark and painful.
“For those who are lonely, the focus on social gatherings can make them feel even more alone – on top of the natural isolation that tends to happen when these winter days grow short and cold. All of the pressures that expect us to feel ‘merry’ can drive people more deeply into their own pain.”
Hewitt wanted to do something to reach out to those in emotional or spiritual pain.
“As a pastor, I often reflect on the pain in our lives – everyone struggles sometimes, in some way – and wonder how we can be companions to one another,” she said. “I’ve come to believe that we hold the hope for each other, and that while we may not be able to fix or erase someone’s pain, we can be with them so they know they’re not alone.”
A pastor for 16 years, Hewitt has witnessed the amplification of loss and struggle during the holidays every year in every congregation she has served.
“Maybe it’s the first Christmas after a divorce,” she said. “Maybe a family member has died, and nothing feels right. Perhaps someone is newly sober, and is learning what it means to celebrate the holidays without their substance of choice. Or it could be a health crisis that changes everything about how a family is celebrating.
“These stories are all around us, all the time – even if they’re not visible.”
This year, Hewitt wants to send a message to those in need of comfort.
“I want people in our community to know that they’re not alone, and that they don’t have to pretend like everything’s OK,” she said. “Grief and struggle are real; they deplete our emotional stores; everything feels harder.
“Being together with other people who might understand – even if they don’t know your story – is one way to ease our struggles, and find some solid ground beneath our feet.”
That’s why Hewitt will lead a special “Blue Christmas” service on Christmas Eve. She calls it a “gentle, reflective” service and “a service of remembrance and hope.”
“The service will include readings and music – but not Christmas carols,” she said. “No one will be asked to speak or to divulge what’s troubling them. This is a time and a place to acknowledge grief and to find comfort in the knowledge that you’re not alone.”
Blue Christmas is “a non-denominational service, open to all – including those who don’t have any religious background or practice,” Hewitt said.
The Blue Christmas service will take place in the Porter Meeting Hall at Skidompha Library in Damariscotta from 10:30-11:30 a.m. Christmas Eve, Sunday, Dec. 24. Access the hall by the library’s rear entrance on Elm Street.