When Christmas Isn’t Christmas by Fr. Paul Wharton

[In recent years some churches have held “Blue Christmas Services” for whom the celebration of Christmas is difficult for whatever reason. My post for today is something I wrote years ago to a mythical “Virginia” as a newspaper editor once so famoously did many years ago. It is followed by a prayer from a Blue Christmas Servicd posted on the web.]

blue christmas tree snow pictures, backgrounds and images
Dear Virginia,

​You are not alone.

Christmas is for most people a joyous and happy time;
but for others, such as you, the holiday season is depressing.
Perhaps it is because Christmas is a time of remembering
–family, friends, and past Christmases—and these memories can bring pain.
Those who have no families see families happy together.
Those who recently experienced the death of a loved one mourn their loss.
A family too poor to afford gifts or even food for a nice Christmas dinner is saddened.
Children wish their parents would quit fighting or would get back together again.

For these people, like you, Christmas isn’t able to be Christmas.
Instead of being filled with the joy and grace of the season,
you experience sadness and regret.
Your question is the question of many: “How can I deal with these feelings?”
​I would like to share with you an ancient Greek story:

There was a woman who died and arrived at the River Styx to be ferried to the land of the dead.  Charon, the ferryman, told the woman that she was permitted to drink of the waters if she wanted to forget the life she had just left.  “Of course, you would then forget past joys as well as past sorrows.”  “Then, I would forget all I have suffered,” said the woman.  “And your many occasions of rejoicing,” reminded Charon.  “But my failures—I’d forget them, too,” continued the woman.  Charon said, “And also your triumphs.”  “And the times I have borne people’s hatred,” added the woman.  “True,” said Charon, “but you would also forget how you have been loved.”  The woman stopped to weigh the whole matter and finally decided not to sip the waters.  It was not worth being rid of the memory of life’s sorrows and failures, if one must at the same time lose the memory of life’s happiness and love.

​This story illustrates an important truth;
we have to balance our memories.
Suffering, loneliness, failure, and hatred are
as much a part of life as rejoicing, success, companionship, and love.
You cannot have one without the other;  and to
ignore your painful memories is untruthful and seldom possible.

When you suffer from the holiday blues,
admit it, and try to balance the memories.
For every regret and loss, recall a joy and surprise.
When you recall the death of a loved one, admit your sadness,
but instead of swelling on the loss, remember and rejoice
in the joy that person brought into your life.

​And in the midst of your loneliness and pain,
remember what Christmas means.
The prophet Isaiah described the coming of the Messiah in these words,
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.”
Jesus came specifically to reach out to people such as you
to fill their lives with his peace and joy. ​
Jesus is “Emmanuel”—God is with us

God is with us
in the midst of our sadness and depression,
in the midst of our life.
No matter what happens,
God is with us to guide us and fill us with his presence and peace.

In the Book of Revelation Jesus says,
Here I stand, knocking at the door.
If anyone hears me calling and opens the door,
I will enter his house and have supper with him and he with me
.” (Rev. 3:20)
Jesus stands, knocking at the door of your heart.
Will you open yourself to the Lord?”

​When you are tempted
to withdraw into yourself, reach out to others instead.
There are people who are sensitive to your feelings and want to help.
When you are asked if you are feeling down,
admit it:  “To be honest, I am a little depressed.
I have been thinking a lot about ….”
If they invite you to join them on Christmas day,
know that their invitation is sincere.
Feeling the joy of Christmas, they want to share it with you.

What will this year be like?  It’s all up to you.
Pray about and meditate on the meaning of Christmas.
Do not be afraid.  Listen, I bring news of great joy
a joy to be shared by the whole people.
Today, in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord
.”. (Luke  2:10-11)

​Father Paul

A Prayer from a Blue Christmas Service.

O God, our God,
we shrink before the great mystery of your presence and power.
You are the source and redeemer of life;
we are the mortal ones
who work so very hard
to trust in you and the eternity you provide.
Only you fully know and understand
the places that we find ourselves:
between faith and doubt,
light and darkness,
hope and despair,
love and fatigue of spirit,
joy and harsh reality,
peace and unrest.
Only you can deliver us
from what seems too real
unto the truth of your consolation.
We seek not to be comfortable,
for that would be selfish and
contrary to your call to joyful obedience
as servant-disciples.
We do seek, to be comforted,
for we know that You are our Comforter.
So help us in this night,
to see beyond the darkness
unto your glorious light,
to move in heart and mind
beyond our grief
unto your ever-present care;
and in it all
to find in this season of celebration
your permission to be and to feel
as is fully human.
For we long to know Christmas
despite our pain and sadness,
even though it might be
celebrated by us
in a minor key;
in the One who was born
to set us free
and give us the gift of life.   Amen.

Gary L. Lake Dillensnyder



About Paul Wharton

I am a cradle Catholic, a native West Virginian, and a priest since April 24, 1982. Spiritual Direction has made a tremendous difference in my life and I encourage people to try it out. My motto is "Progress not perfection." I am grateful that God has done for me what I could not do for myself.
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6 Responses to When Christmas Isn’t Christmas by Fr. Paul Wharton

  1. Father Paul, your letter to Virginia is excellent! If only all of us could realize and be uplifted by the words you wrote! Yes, we must learn to accept life’s ups and downs and live an examined and balanced life. We live in a finite world where there are mountains and valleys: we climb to the joys and we descend to the sorrows. It is this way here. But knowing, loving, and serving the Trinity, we can aspire to where all is joy because we will truly be with God forever!

  2. Linda Trill says:

    Beautiful! Very powerful! Going to share, thank you!

  3. Tim Koeller says:

    Thank you for this Father Paul. Just moving here six months ago has had a small “blue” effect on my Christmas spirit. I am closer to family now, which I am ever so grateful for but I truly miss my circle of close friends l’ve left behind. This really helped me appreciate even more the past years I’ve shared with my friends and co-workers bringing a little more joy, and peace, to my heart.

  4. Donna says:

    Sometimes, especially during the holidays, our lives become can become so cluttered with heightened emotions, busyness, and expectations, that there is no room left for the Lord–and for the joy and peace that only He can bring. I’d like to share this little story that reminds us of the importance of making room Jesus.

    It was Christmas Eve, and the pews at New York City’s Riverside Church were packed. The Christmas pageant was underway and had come to the point at which the innkeeper was to turn away Mary and Joseph with the resounding line, “There’s no room at the inn!”

    Never mind that no figure of the innkeeper actually appears in Scripture. We’ve all imagined him delivering the message of no room, of inhospitality to the baby Jesus and His parents. And it seemed the perfect part for Tim, an earnest youth of the congregation who had Down’s Syndrome. Only one line to remember: “There’s no room at the inn!” He had practiced it again and again with his parents and with the pageant director. He seemed to have mastered it.

    So Tim stood at the altar of the sanctuary, bathrobe costume firmly belted over his broad stomach, as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle. They approached him, said their lines as rehearsed and waited for his reply. Tim’s parents, the pageant director, and the whole congregation almost leaned forward as if willing him to remember his line. “There’s no room at the inn!” Tim boomed out, just as rehearsed.

    But then, as Mary and Joseph turned on cue to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled, “Wait!” They turned back, startled, along with the congregation, and looked at him in surprise. “You can stay at my house!” he called.

    Well, Tim had effectively preached the sermon at Riverside Church that Christmas Eve. Rev. William Sloane Coffin strode to the pulpit, said, “Amen,” and sat down. It was the best sermon he never preached.

  5. Pingback: When Christmas is BLUE | HEARTS ON FIRE

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