St. Thomas to host Blue Christmas service

Published 4:08 pm Monday, December 18, 2017


BATH — Not everyone enjoys the holidays.

At this time of year, when the expectation is of joy and cheer, there are those who just can’t bring themselves to celebrate. Maybe someone has suffered a recent loss — of a spouse, a friend, a pet — and is in the midst of grieving. Perhaps Christmas is associated with a bad experience in the past that continues to impact the Christmas present.

That’s why each year for the past three years, Rev. Diane Tomlinson, rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Bath, has held a Blue Christmas Service for any suffering from the “holiday blues.”

This year’s service will be held Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. There will be music and prayer, a lighting of the Advent wreath. Those in attendance can choose to write down what’s troubling them on ribbons, which will then be tied to a Christmas wreath, part of the church’s decor. It’s not a huge service, nor a maudlin one, Tomlinson said, but it meets a need in the community. In past years, 30-35 people have attended Blue Christmas.

“I think the idea of people coming together and understanding that they are not alone, that there are others that feel as they do, brings them comfort,” Tomlinson said. “It’s space for people to be sad, to grieve. … It’s for anyone who feels blue; that just cannot get enthusiastic about the holiday season.”

Tomlinson has been leading such a service for many years — the first she hosted was in Detroit, Michigan, and she said watching the mother of a murdered son write her troubles on a ribbon to tie to a Christmas tree on that occasion had a lasting impact.

But one does not have to be grieving a loved one to attend; others suffer from depression that can take the joy out of holidays as well.

“I’m guessing (the service) tends to attract people with some grief or depression,” said Dr. Viswanathan Swaminathan, a psychiatrist with Vidant Behavioral Health. “For the given individual to understand that he or she is not alone in feeling depressed, down — it happens to others, also.”

Swaminathan said seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that manifests itself in the winter months — thus, over the holiday season — can be a factor for those diagnosed with other types of clinical depression or can stand on its own.

“Mostly, in this time, they may have fatigue, tiredness and excessive sleepiness; they may feel a loss or deficiency — ‘Why am I not feeling better?’” Swaminathan said.

While a psychiatrist or therapist can evaluate, diagnose and prescribe such treatment as light therapy, clinical therapy or medication, Swaminathan said a service like Blue Christmas also could be helpful to those suffering from depression.

“It gives them peer support and a lack of isolation; the ability to share feelings and experiences,” Swaminathan said. “It also gives them a message that the church accepts all people. Everyone is welcome in the house of God.”

That is Tomlinson’s aim — to provide a place of comfort amongst others who feel the same; that if so desired, people can share those feelings.

“There is that glimmer of hope, which is what Christmas is all about,” Tomlinson said. “Where else can we be ourselves but in church, and be our full humanity, not just the happy face?”

St. Thomas Episcopal Church is located at 101 Craven St., Bath.