A Portland church wants to acknowledge that for families who have experienced grief, the holiday season is less than jolly.

St. David of Wales Episcopal Church hosted The Longest Night Service was held on Dec. 20. The service has been held annually since 2009 and its purpose, as Rev. James Joiner describes it, is to “acknowledge the grief people carry with them” during the holidays.

The Portland Threshold Choir’s performed at the event.

The choir sang: “I am sending you light to heal you, to hold you. I am sending you light, to hold you in love.”

Churchgoers rose from their pews and walked down the center aisle where they lit votive candles to honor those they grieve for. The choir paused at intervals to allow attendees to speak the names of those they have lost.

“The service creates a safe place to honor people who have passed in my life,” attendee Emily Jameson Dubow said. “It feels meditative. It feels holy to me. It feels safe.”

Despite the American pressure to be consistently cheerful during the holidays, Jameson Dubow has learned “It’s not always like a Normal Rockwell painting.” Former St. David’s priest Sara Fischer originally initiated the annual service to create an escape from the “extreme joy” Americans see on TV screens and hear on the radio.

Jameson Dubow appreciates that she can come to this winter service and “not have to pretend that you’re happy,” because “sorrow and sadness are part of this human experience,” she said.

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Katrina Aman is an aspiring journalist who desires to be a person of positive influence. Particularly passionate about poverty alleviation and civil rights, she hopes her writing takes her where she can improve lives.