Songs and Hymns for Blue Christmas / Longest Night (updated for 2021)

Our congregation has a small Blue Christmas service every year sometime before Christmas itself. It's for people who are mourning, or have other reasons for not feeling particularly joyful at Christmas. Since it is small and quiet, we sometimes don't sing together - people feel more fragile when their voices feel small. But sometimes we do. And sometimes the musicians just play some music that might help. Here are some ideas that might work for small or large gatherings, and either sung by the congregation, or by a soloist or group of singers.
 
See also General Advent Suggestions.
  • Online Resource Dry (Paul Somerville) An excellent song seeking refreshment from the living water and grace of Christ. It will need a little time for teaching, or ask your musicians to sing it. CCLI link to sound sample and sheet music
  • CoC28 I didn't hear the angels sing (Iris McCoy) Lovely statement of faith despite not having witnessed the Christmas events. Simple tune.  
  • Protest and Praise / Online Resource Come now O God when our love is forsaken (David Bjorlin) Reflective words of seeking for God to come in the midst of sadness. Set to a traditional folk tune, which may not be familiar, so will need to be taught. Or perhaps the congregation could just listen. Sound sample, sheet music and lyrics sample and purchasing options
  • Online Resource Christmas come close (Shirley Murray) Excellent words, sung to a simple hymnlike tune with some really beautiful images about difficult things and the hope that Christmas brings. Sheet music and lyrics.
  • Online Resource Drawing Nearer (Christopher Grundy) An excellent contemporary song about the lack of peace within the world and within our souls, and the desire for God to "steal our hearts - like a baby". It's great. Free sheet music. Sound sample (youtube). I would use this first by a soloist, and invite the congregation to join in as they get the hang of it.   
  • TiS 693 / AoV1-031 / GA212 Come as you are that's how I want you (Deidre Browne) This song is beautiful, gentle, simple, and very well known. Lyrics and sound sample. A good song to start the service. 
  • Unknown Source After the ride / He was born (Robin Mann) Not easily accessible, but this has been sung at Brunswick by a soloist at our Blue Christmas service and it's really beautiful. Lyrics.
  • ATW 475 / NCYC'01 / SP&P008 Come to the banquet there’s a place for you (Fay White) An excellent song by Melbourne singer and songwriter Fay White. "Though you maybe have no money, though you maybe feel unworthy, in your strength and in your weakness you are welcome, come." If you are celebrating communion, this might be an appropriate choice - sung in a more meditative way.  Lyrics.
  • AoV1-192 / NCH092 / VU433 / GA540 / PH544 / GtG676 / GC758 / GC(II)751 / G(3)858 / CP020 / URW191 / Lau676 Day is done but love unfailing (James Quinn) This is specific for evening services; I think the words for this are really beautiful, the tune very familiar (AR HYD NOS) and the image of unending Light in the midst of death and darkness is full of hope. Lyrics and sound sample. New words to old tunes  
  • AoV2-043 / ATFG520 / CoC40 / NCH538 / SFFS 2095 / GC(II)355 / SP&P174 / W&R223 / ZSS63 / VF035 Star-Child (Shirley Murray) A lovely lovely carol. Very easy to sing. A big favourite. This might work well to end the service. Lyrics and sample sheet music. 
  • ATAR606 / StS121 / FFS50 Nothing is lost on the breath of God (Colin Gibson) A beautiful song and very easy to sing even if new. "Nothing is lost on the breath of God, nothing is lost for ever; God's breath is love, and that love will remain, holding the world for ever. No feather too light, no hair too fine, no flower too brief in its glory; no drop in the ocean, no dust in the air, but is counted and told in God's story." Lyrics and full sheet music. Sound sample. 
  • Tune In / Online Resource God's Mercy (Sheree Anderson) A beautiful ballad of healing: "Like the sun upon my skin, I can smile and take it in, and my wounds begin to heal, that's God's mercy". Free downloadable song book, sound samples & lyrics.
  • Protest and Praise / Online Resource In our deepest grief / We wait for you (David Bjorlin / Randall Sensmeier) A beautiful song of waiting, even in sorrow and fear; not so easy to sing - I would use a soloist. Songbook for purchase. Sound sample (I prefer it to be a little more tentative than this).
  • Taizé / CH276 / VU22 / GtG090 / ELW262 / GA283 / A&M053 / G(II)256 / GC332 / GC(II)340 / G(3)406 / CP094 / W&R166 / PfAS037B / SP28 / URW396 / Lau088 Wait for the Lord (Jacques Berthier) Wait for the Lord whose day is near, wait for the lord, keep watch, take heart. A lovely simple Taize chant. Sheet music, translations and sound samples.
  • TiS 647 / AoV2-012 / ATN 25 Comfort, comfort all my people (Robin Mann) Easy to sing, beautiful lyrics; largely a paraphrase of this passage. Chorus is “Comfort, comfort all my people, with the comfort of my word. Speak ye tender to my people, all your sins are taken away”. Lyrics, mp3 sample.
  • Online Resource Creator God (Margaret Rizza) Lovely words, and a very simple tune - though I think it would be best for a soloist. Thanks for the suggestion Jo Rand. Sound sample (track 5) Lyrics.
  • AoV2-024 / URW407 Holy Darkness (Dan Schutte) Beautiful words. Might want to use a cantor if this is not familiar to your congregation. Not specifically about Christmas - it's really more Advent-ish. Lyrics and sound samples.
  • God Comes Tomorrow (Iona) Give us this year (Iona) Beautiful words seeking a more mature response to Christmas, sung to an old hymn tune (NEUMARK). The tune is not familiar to me, but is not difficult to sing, and if you have a choir, sounds particularly lovely. New words to old tunesLyrics.
  • Online Resource Kindle a flame within our hearts (Philip Garside) A beautiful gentle song, with lyrics that can be altered for each week of Advent. Sheet music and lyrics.
  • Music by Heart 59 Come light of lights (Ruth Cunningham) A lovely two-part meditative chant: "Come light of lights into my heart. Come wisdom of spirit into my heart". It can be sung quite slowly and meditatively, or more energetically and joyfully, depending on your context; it can also be split into a round! Two videos: A quick version and a slow versionSound sample. Good for kids.
  • Iona (Enemy of Apathy) Sing my soul when hope is sleeping (John Bell and Graham Maule) "Sing, my soul, when hope is sleeping. Sing when faith gives way to fears; Sing to melt the ice of sadness Making way for joy through tears." Simple to sing. Lyrics (downloads a pdf). 
  • Unusual Source This quiet night (Monique Lisbon) A beautiful gentle song, best sung by a soloist for reflection, the words pick up Mary's contemplation on her sleeping child. BUC people, there is a copy of this book in our Liturgy Library. 
  • AA141 / CoC44 The wind blew keen (Colin Gibson) A beautiful carol, with simple straightforward Celtic type tune. I hope this becomes popular, because it's really lovely, but also acknowledges pain and discomfort.  Lyrics.
  • Online Resource Come now O God when our love is forsaken (David Bjorlin) Powerful words of lament to the Finnish folk tune Lost in the Night. Lyrics. New words to old tunes
  • Taizé / GtG814 / CP563 / PfAS062D In God alone my soul can find rest and peace / Mon Ame Se Repose (Jacques Berthier) A very beautiful chant from Taize. Music and sound samples for practice. Good for kids.  
  • NCH476 /  CH565 / VU716 / WoV781 / LBW294 / ELW596 / GA454 / SFFS 2212 / GtG821 / HPP395  / G(II)427  / GC603 / GC(II)598 / G(3)685 / CP401 / W&R424 / Cha619 / SP296 / URW170 My life flows on in endless song / How can I keep from singing (Robert Lowry) A wonderful hymn. Lots of great recordings of this are available too. It's not so great if it is not familiar to your congregation, but once known, it is worth hanging on to. This is not known so well in Australia... Might be good to end the service on a note of hope. Lyrics & sheet music. Oldy-but-a-goody.
  • Recorded music Like Mary and Joseph (John Coleman) A song about a man whose family is broken in a Summer Christmas. Worth a look, particularly if there has been a recent break-up in your congregation. Sound sample and lyrics. 
  • Unusual Resource It is love (Scott Kearns) This beautiful song is straightforward to sing, and fits well with this service - a song of hope. Youtube and lyrics
  • Online Resource Lullaby (Christopher Grundy) Oh, this is so beautiful; this song has been used in services at hospices at longest night services, but could also be used at a Blue Christmas service. And I just wanted to list it so you could listen to it too. Youtube.
  • Online Resource May you find a light (The Brilliance) Great song about searching with integrity. Thanks Jon Humphries! Youtube. Could also be used at Epiphany.
Sometimes it's good to sing a standard carol, just slowly and quietly. Some good ones:
  • TiS 321 / AHB 245 Coldly the night winds winging (Morris Martin) I think this is one of the most beautiful carols in existence. Lyrics (and a very slow recording).
  • TiS 317 / AHB 243 / NCH165 / CH316 / UMH242 / HPP95 / CP131 / CP(E) 59 / W&R210 / 82Hml-084 / StF201 / MP451 Love came down at Christmas (Christina Rossetti) Needs one small change so that all people are included in our love to each other. NCH does this by replacing "all men" with "neighbour" in the last verse. I prefer the tune HERMITAGE. Lyrics and odd-looking angels. Oldy-but-a-goody.
  • TiS 265 / AHB 193 / AoV1-174 / NCH116 / CH273 / UMH211 / VU001 / LBW034 / ELW283 / GA285 / HPP92 / PH009 / GC317 / GC(II)323 / G(3)395 / CP089 / CP(E) 32 / W&R154 / Cha119 / 82Hml-056 / Lau112 / StF180 / MP493 O come O come Emmanuel (Psaleroilum Cantionum Catholicarum) A very well known ancient Advent carol. Most versions are pretty inclusive. Lyrics and sound sample. There are also two alternate versions (one by Sue Wickham and one by John Henson), set to the same tune, but with more modern lyrics and ideas. See the Facebook Group for lyrics. Oldy-but-a-goody.  There are also some lyrics written specifically for a Blue Christmas service
  • Recorded music Be Still (The Fray) Not specifically Christmassy, but could be very helpful. Thanks to Claire for this suggestion. Youtube. Lyrics
  • NCH131 / CH303 / UMH218 / VU44 / LBW054 / ELW282 / HPP128 / PH038 / GtG123 / GC367 / GC(II)379 / G(3)433 / CP140/1 CP(E) 56 / W&R191 / Cha153 / Srce2-289 / 82Hml-089 / Lau135 / StF205 It came upon the midnight clear (Edmund Sears) You may not have thought of this (I hadn't!), but look at verse 3, listed in the comments below (though check your hymnal as they vary a bit). Sung slowly and carefully, this could be really beautiful in the setting of this service. Thanks Adrianne for this idea. Lyrics & Sheet music.
  • AoV1-165 / NCH148 / UMH219 / VU074 / LBW040 / ELW296 / HPP138 / PH053 / GtG145 / GC380 / GC(II)387 / G(3)466 / CP137 / CP(E) 74 / W&R184 / Cha162 / 82Hml-115 / Lau145 / MP749 What child is this? (Dix) You may also like to include a recent verse written by David MacGregor "What love is this who feels our pain". His lyrics hereOldy-but-a-goody
You may also like to include a Kyrie.

Longest Night / Winter songs
  • Recorded music Longest Night (Peter Mayer) This is a lovely and very appropriate song, which you might like to play. Lyrics and source. Sound sample.
  • NCH128 / CH305 / UMH221 / VU055 / ELW294 / HPP115 / PH036 / GtG144 / CP122 / CP(E) 55 / W&R196 / Srce2-275 / 82Hml-112 / Lau144 / StF204 / MP337 In the bleak midwinter (Christina Rossetti) Beautiful. Very Northern-hemispherific though. Oldy-but-a-goody. Lyrics
  • TiS 321 / AHB 245 Coldly the night winds winging (Morris Martin) I think this is one of the most beautiful carols in existence. Oldy-but-a-goody. Lyrics (and a very slow recording).
  • HiOS139 Through winter cold (Shirley Murray) Lilting Celtic tune and lyrics of hope in the depths of Winter. Sheet music and lyrics.
  • NCH434 / VU530 / HPP275 / PH292 / CP427 All beautiful the march of days (Frances Wile) Snow and cold. Lyrics and sheet music.
  • URW418 God comes to us (Dirk Damonte) Very lovely simple song. Could be used as a chant, or at various points during the service. Sound sample.
  • Online Resource Behold the night (Richard Bruxvoort-Colligan) This is a simple chant "Behold the night, there are gifts here in the dark, soon the sun returns". Youtube.  
  • Taizé / A&M847 / GtG294 / G(II)456 / GC644 / PfAS088A / SP330 Within Our Darkest Night (Jacques Berthier) A lovely chant of continuing hope in the face of despair. Lyrics and sound samples. Good for kids.
  • NCH151 / Iona (SBL) / UMH244 / VU071 / LBW072 / ELW284 / HPP119 / PH061 / GtG142 / G(II)272 / GC361 / CP146 / W&R213 / Cha166 / 82Hml-114 / Lau132 'Twas in the moon of wintertime / Huron Carol (Jean de Brebeuf) I love this one, and it does a good job of adapting the Christmas story to a Native American context. Lyrics and history.
  • NCH432 / CH234 Tis winter now; the fallen snow (Samuel Longfellow) Simple words based on Psalm 74, sung to O WALY WALY. The words are beautiful, though not completely inclusive in CH234. Lyrics and sheet music. New words to old tunes  
  • VU278 / URW221 In the quiet curve of evening (Juliana Howards) Beautiful words about God's presence in the spaces of our lives. Simple tune. Lyrics
  • MV071 / GC(II)339 / G(3)417 / Online Resource When the wind of Winter blows (Ruth Duck) This is very beautiful, and can be used either as a choral work (online version) or as a congregational song (hymnals). Best if you can teach the two-part refrain to the congregation; you could also use a soloist for the verses. Sheet music and sound samples.  
 Over to you... Do you have some ideas that you might be using in a similar service this year?

6 comments:

Pr Adrianne said...

I almost always use "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" for the 3rd verse (my main resource is ELW): "And you, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low, / who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow: / look now for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing; / oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing." Seems to capture the truth of suffering and hope in a way that is perfect for Blue Christmas.

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Damien said...

I like to sing "Joy to the World" but to the tune of "O Little Town of Bethlehem". You need four verses of "Joy" to make it fit, (or 2), but it's a lovely thing.

As an opposite, perhaps to highlight the crashing nature of everyone else's celebration when you are mourning, try the inverse. "O little Town" to "Joy To The World". Jarring!!