The Longest Night: Singing Christmas Carols in a Minor Key

This is a season of rituals.  The ritual of putting up the tree, driving around town to look at lights,  baking your grandmother’s cookie recipe,  filling the pew with your family on Christmas Eve, singing Silent Night.  These rituals and traditions are what make Christmas feel like Christmas.

But what do we do when Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas anymore?

We need permission to sing Christmas Carols in a minor key. We need new rituals.  We need to sing songs like “In the Bleak Midwinter” and allow ourselves to grieve for those who will no longer be with us in the pew on Christmas Eve.  The traditions and rituals may be the same, but now the feeling around them has changed because there is a void, a loss, and we find ourselves searching.

C. S. Lewis cites in A Grief Observed:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

Our community has faced many losses this year. We have lost loved ones, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Some have grieved the end of a marriage, a job loss, or the loss of one’s personal health. We find ourselves faced with reality that,  “Life will never be the same again.”

What are we to do when we feel this measure of grief and loss? How are we to begin healing?  How do we incorporate the work of grief into this season set apart for tidings of comfort and joy?

The most important thing I do is practice rituals that remind me of my faith.  I need to light a candle every morning for those I love and say a prayer for them. I need to read the Psalms every day, and hear God’s Word speak in new ways. I need to breathe in fresh air and take note of the sunrise and sunset. I read poetry. I practice gratitude. Every day. These are my rituals through grieving.

What are your rituals when you are grieving?

In this season that celebrates Joy to the World, I am soberly reminded that in may places joy has been eradicated.  So I sing for those places in minor key and pray that the Light may find its way there again.

We will hold a Longest Night Service this weekend at our church. We will sing Christmas carols in the minor key.  We will light candles and pray deeply.  We will give ourselves permission to get as close to Jesus as possible. This service may not be “Merry and Bright,” but it will be full of light in the darkness.

I came across this quote by Ellen Bass.  It spoke directly to my soul:

“to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.” 
 Ellen Bass

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