At this time of year, church organist and choir conductor Michéle Barr is anything but calm and peaceful when she sings the old Christmas classic Silent Night.
"The song itself represents such hope, but it brings out the emotion," she says of how the carol written nearly 200 years ago by Lutheran pastor Franz Gruber evokes tears and memories of deceased family members and her years as a single mother.
On this longest night of the year, Barr knows she's not the only one with mixed feelings about the holly jolly nature of the upcoming Christmas celebrations.
"Amidst all of the excitement, not everyone is in that space," explains Barr, minister of worship and music at Faith Lutheran Church, which is hosting a special Blue Christmas service at 5:30 p.m. today for people experiencing loss and loneliness.
"The more darkness there is, the harder it is."
The one-hour service includes readings, songs and time to light a candle in memory of a loved one.
"That's what Blue Christmas is for me. It's acknowledging and accepting the loss," she says of the first-ever service of this type at Faith Lutheran, 1311 Dakota St.
The term "blue Christmas" refers to the song of the same name by Jay W. Johnson and Billy Hayes, made famous by singer Elvis Presley. Often these services are held on or near the winter solstice, which this year falls today.
On Sunday, Windsor Park United Church, 1062 Autumnwood Dr., holds its 17th annual Blue Christmas service at 7 p.m., an event that is always open to the community, says Rev. Sharon Wilson.
"I think sometimes we forget that you can get through a lot of things, but because Christmas is so bound up in family and tradition, it can be incredibly lonely," she explains.
"We give people a chance to pray and think and just remember the person they're missing."
These types of services are generally quieter and more reflective than other Christmas events, providing an opportunity to celebrate the season in a low-key manner, explains the rector of St. John's Anglican Cathedral.
Johnson leads their When Christmas Hurts service at 4 p.m. Sunday at the North End cathedral, 135 Anderson Ave.
"There's a very clear acknowledgment in word (during the service) that grief is real and it's nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of," says Rev. Paul Johnson.
"This allows people to grieve and cry."
Johnson says this type of service acknowledges the sadness at a time when the popular culture promotes happy family gatherings.
"There's this enormous cultural pressure. Not only do you have to be happy, you have to make other people happy," says Johnson.
"This is an attempt to relieve that added pressure, especially if you're dealing with grief. Whatever your sorrows, whatever your pain, come and hear an accepting word."
When the nights are already cold and dark, this type of service acknowledges the internal darkness in people's lives, says Rev. Dan Nighswander of Jubilee Mennonite Church.
He leads a Longest Night Service at 7 tonight at his East Kildonan church, located at 365 Edelweiss Cres.
"It is a dark time for a lot of people. People feel the weight of their loneliness," he says.
For Barr, singing a well-loved carol brings back memories of spending Christmas Day alone when her children went to visit their paternal grandparents.
"It's during Silent Night that I remember all those things," she says.
"For me it's the trigger song."