Snowmass Chapel’s ‘Blue Christmas’ creates space for loss in holiday season
Tuesday evening service honors “The Longest Night” with chance to acknowledge grief
Charla Belinski knows as well as anyone that now is the “season of Christmas joy and celebration.” But the Snowmass Chapel Associate Pastor also recognizes the pain of loss so many people experience this time of year.
“Everywhere you look, there are holiday parties and celebrations and laughter and tree-cutting and tree-decorating and cookies and family gatherings and all of that, and there are still people who, in the midst of that, are really grieving,” Belinski said.
“They have just been experiencing a challenge or some sort of loss or, you know, they’re just not feeling it. … In the midst of all of everybody’s celebrating, some people can feel really at a loss, and left out.”
A candlelit service at the Snowmass Chapel yurt at 7 p.m. Tuesday aims to acknowledge that loss and grief during a time typically defined by all that’s merry and bright.
It’s called a “Blue Christmas” or “The Longest Night,” referring to both the winter solstice — it takes place on the longest night of the year — and the recognition “that sometimes we are going through a very dark period in our personal lives, and it can feel like the longest night,” Belinski said.
Each candle lit comes with a prayer for the experience it represents: “the memories of being with loved ones that we can’t be with anymore, the dreams that have been diminished over the past year,” Belinski said.
“We light a candle for each of these losses that we’re experiencing, and then we kind of allow that light to fill the room in the darkness,” she added. People will also be able to walk through the labyrinth set up in the yurt, which is open to the public throughout the holiday season between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The service is a first for the Snowmass Chapel, though the chapel has offered solstice services before, Belinski said. It isn’t a new concept in Christian tradition; other churches have long offered “Blue Christmas” services to honor feelings of grief and loss during the holidays.
This year “just felt right” to debut the service at the Snowmass Chapel after nearly two pandemic years that have amplified feelings of loss, Belinski said. In 2021, the chapel held nearly a dozen funerals (due to a variety of different factors); that’s far more than the usual annual count of less than a handful that Belinski can recall throughout her decade with the chapel.
Even those who haven’t been directly impacted by death and loss have felt its impacts and the ripple effects of the pandemic’s stressors over the past 20-odd months, Belinski said. She expects that the Snowmass Chapel’s first Blue Christmas will feel different than it might have if it were offered before 2020.
“No one has escaped unscathed from this pandemic, and in many ways that has created a deep compassion for other people’s suffering. … (Pre-pandemic,) I think a lot of people were oblivious, you know? If it wasn’t affecting them, it was kind of out there — they could keep it at arm’s length,” Belinski said.
“We can’t keep sorrow at arm’s length anymore. It surrounds us,” she added.
The service aims to create space for people to experience and sit with that sorrow rather than suppress it or ignore it by pushing forward at a breakneck pace.
“Our valley doesn’t seem to slow down much, right? We’re go-go-go and that’s what we do, and sometimes I think that’s the attitude, is that we’ll just power through, we’ll just go climb the mountain, we’ll ski, we’ll go to another party, you know, that’s what we’ll do,” Belinski said. “And this gives us a chance to actually slow down and acknowledge the feelings instead of stuffing them.”
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