Church offers Blue Christmas service for those struggling through holidays

Church offers Blue Christmas service for those struggling through holidays

CALGARY — On one of the longest nights of the year, the imposing wooden doors of a more than century-old downtown Calgary church will open to anyone seeking refuge from the merry and bright pre-Christmas blare.

The Blue Christmas service at Knox United Church is for people who don’t see the holidays as the most wonderful time of the year, perhaps because they’ve lost a loved one, a job, or a relationship.

“It just seems like a good time to acknowledge the struggle people are facing this time of year,” says Rev. Greg Glatz.

“There seems to be a lot of power, a lot of hope and a lot of healing that takes place when people get together and see other people like them who are struggling.”

Glatz started the Blue Christmas tradition at his old church in Winnipeg when his mother was grieving deaths in the family and a divorce.

“Christmas just got harder and harder every year,” says Glatz. “And as I talked to people, I noticed my mom wasn’t alone.”

Knox has been holding the service since Glatz moved to Calgary about four years ago. Other cities in North America hold similar services.

Knox’s Blue Christmas is usually held on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. But this year, the service is being held a day earlier, on Friday, because the sanctuary was already booked for a children’s choir concert on Saturday.

The church’s online event calendar advertises Blue Christmas simply as a “sacred space for people living through dark times.”

Music is a defining feature. Songs are in a minor key and about finding light in the darkness.

Worshippers also hear lessons about “that sense of being in that in-between space, where things are not quite right but you hope they will be some day,” says Glatz.

“Our prayers also reflect the sense of loss or sadness that people are feeling.”

The 800-seat neo-Gothic sandstone church is normally full on Christmas Eve and a typical Sunday attracts about 100. In the past, about 30 to 50 have tended to show up for Blue Christmas, says Glatz.

Cathy Keough with the Calgary Counselling Centre says the holidays can make existing struggles more intense.

“Loneliness is a huge issue, regardless of the time of year,” she says. “But it can feel a lot lonelier when everything around you is screaming ‘connection.’”

Keough says the centre is about 14 per cent busier year over year and the city’s ailing economy has been a big theme. Companies tend to lay off staff around year-end and this holiday season has been particularly tough, with hundreds of layoffs in recent months.

Many people strive for perfection around the holidays and compare themselves with others, while often stretching their budgets, Keough adds.

“People are rundown. They’re sick. They’re not even present for the big day,” says Keough. “And then there’s a letdown right after.”

Depression and anxiety worsen when a person is isolated, which is why an event like Blue Christmas can help, says Keough.

“We’re social beings and we heal socially and that healing can take place in the smallest doses.”

Glatz says anyone hesitating about coming to Blue Christmas need not worry about being the right type of person, dressing the right way or having the right beliefs.

“I don’t want people to be worried that they don’t somehow qualify,” he says.

“If you’re feeling you need this service, just show up.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta identifies 573 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths on Saturday

There are currently 9,727 active cases of the virus in the province

A firetruck sits in front of a home on Harvey Close in Red Deer Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters respond to Red Deer fire

Red Deer firefighters responded to a blaze in the north part of… Continue reading

(Courtesy photo)
Red Deer rental prices drop slightly

Renting an apartment in Red Deer became slightly cheaper last month. Rentals.ca… Continue reading

Rylee Trippel was last seen Friday. (Photo contributed by RCMP)
Red Deer RCMP looking for missing teen

Police are looking for a teen who was last seen in the… Continue reading

The Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Adopt a Family program raised $60,000 in 2020. (Photo courtesy Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Facebook)
Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Adopt a Family program raised $60K in 2020

The executive director of the Red Deer Outreach Centre says she is… Continue reading

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

RCMP say missing teen Hope Tivendale has been found. (File photo by Advocate staff)
No foul play suspected after burned body of homeless person found in North Vancouver

VANCOUVER — A burned body, believed to be of a homeless person,… Continue reading

The central zone experienced a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases Thursday, rising from 454 to 508 active cases over the past 24 hours, with 10 people in hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Spartan Bioscience says Health Canada has approved its rapid COVID-19 test

TORONTO — An Ottawa company says it’s received approval from Health Canada… Continue reading

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole defends decision to back, then oust, Sloan

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he was once willing to… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault pauses as he speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Non-essential travel ban would violate Constitution but courts might allow it: expert

MONTREAL — Fear that Quebecers will catch a new variant of COVID-19… Continue reading

A woman walks outside the Roberta Place Long Term Care home in Barrie, Ont. on Monday, January 18, 2021. The devastating toll of COVID-19 on long-term care residents in Canada has underscored the need for increased public funding for home care, advocates say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
COVID-19 deaths in long-term care reveal need for home supports: advocates

VANCOUVER — The devastating toll of COVID-19 on long-term care residents in… Continue reading

A Chinese flag is illuminated by sunshine in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, September 22, 2016. China is threatening retaliation against Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned a new security law giving Beijing more control over Hong Kong.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Diplomats contact Canadian held for over 2 years in China

BEIJING — Canadian officials have met online with former diplomat Michael Kovrig,… Continue reading

Marc Gold (centre) stands with senators André Pratte (left) and Peter Harder before being sworn in during a ceremony in the Senate on Parliament Hill, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Senator urges study of vexing barriers to using secret information in court cases

OTTAWA — A Senate committee should examine the hurdles that make it… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Winnipeg ticket holder wins Friday night’s $60 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — A ticket holder from Winnipeg won Friday night’s whopping $60… Continue reading

Most Read