The holidays are meant to be a time of joy and happiness, but for those who have suffered a loss, the season can be heartbreaking.
Margie Martinelli, wellness coordinator for Ingomar United Methodist Church, realizes that this time of year can be painful for some people, so she started a Blue Christmas church service six years ago to help those dreading the holidays.
"It is really for anyone who has faced any major loss," she said. "We really just want to serve people and help them through this difficult time."
The loss can be through death, divorce, the breakup of a relationship, the loss of a job or the decline of health, she said.
In addition to Blue Christimas, Ms. Martinelli offers a program titled Surviving the Holidays that is geared for those who have lost a loved one through death and offers more assistance and support.
Ms. Martinelli was faced with a major loss in her own life in September 2007.
"I had lost my mother and was really feeling the loss," she said. "I knew that others were feeling the same way."
But selling others at the Ingomar church on the idea of hosting a Blue Christmas service wasn't easy.
"They thought it would be all sad and depressing. I had to tell them it would bring hope and comfort," she said.
This year, Ingomar United Methodist Church will host Blue Christmas on Dec. 4 with a dinner at 5 p.m. followed by a church service at 6 p.m. that will include the lighting of a special Advent wreath, listening to spiritual readings and singing Christmas carols.
About 50 usually attend the dinner and more than 80 come to the service. The dinner and service are free and open to the public.
Shirley Hauck from McCandless attended her first Blue Christmas service when she lost her husband four years ago.
"It wasn't exactly somber, but it wasn't an out-and-out celebration. It was a way to talk about loss but still be part of the Christmas service," she said.
Mrs. Hauck said she now goes to the dinner to help support others.
"It is comforting to hear others talking about their loss and to acknowledge that loss," she said. "It was a relief to not have to act happy."
The support and sharing are key elements to the program, she said.
"There are people who are dealing with a similar thing that you are dealing with. It's not like you have to make-believe you are happy," Mrs. Hauck said.
Registration is requested but not required for the Blue Christmas program. Information: 412-364-3613.
This will be the third year that Ms. Martinelli will lead a Surviving the Holidays seminar. The free program includes a video, small group discussion and a devotional guide.
"It is Christian-based, but anyone can benefit from the sharing and comfort," Ms. Martinelli said.
Surviving the Holidays will be offered from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday at St. Barnabas, 5850 Meridian Road, Richland. It also will be offered from 10 a.m. to noon next Thursday at the St. Barnabas Woodlands campus in Valencia.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.