For one night during the typically celebratory holiday season, there will be no upbeat caroling, joyous choir music or other pageantry at University Lutheran Church -- only quiet prayers and time for reflection.
For the last six years or so, the Palo Alto church has set aside a single night during the season, called Blue Christmas, for those who don't necessarily find comfort in celebrating the holidays.
"This service is less celebratory and acknowledges the stress and pain sometimes associated with this time of year," the Rev. Greg Schaefer said.
The church is one of a growing number of congregations across the country holding Blue Christmas services to help those struggling with this time of the year. These services, sometimes called The Longest Night, are usually held on or near the winter solstice, a day with the least amount of daylight during the year.
Schaefer said grief, worry, anxiety, illness, loneliness, addiction, depression and family drama are among the obstacles that can make the Christmas season painful.
"If everyone else seems to be celebrating, we can feel even lonelier with our true feelings," he said.
The service is a time for people to pray or reflect about whatever is weighing on their minds and spirits, he added.
Schaefer said University Lutheran began holding Blue Christmas services a few years following his arrival at the church after he noticed that the holidays weren't necessarily a joyous event for everyone in his congregation.
"There was a need for a service that acknowledged the pain and grief that people experience at this time of year," he said. "Of course, we acknowledge it anyway, but to set aside a service just for that purpose -- one that opens up space for people to both bring their pain and receive some hope -- has been meaningful to the community."
Schaefer said he anticipates a large turn out at this year's service.
"It seems there is more to lament this year, and I think that's weighing on people's minds a lot," he said. "I think there are political, economic and environmental issues and instances of injustice and disaster – more this year than usual."
Wednesday's service will include passages that talk about grief, as well as God's promises of justice and peace and life, Schaefer said.
There also will be time for people to move around the church to various stations for a variety of activities such as folding origami stars and praying for light; sitting with a piece of art; writing, drawing or coloring; writing down a prayer and laying it in the nativity scene; lighting a candle; or praying with the pastor.
"From this darkest night, we will be moving toward the light," he said.
Anyone is welcome to attend Wednesday's service, which will begin at 7 p.m. at University Lutheran, 1611 Stanford Ave., Palo Alto.
University Lutheran is a Campus Ministry Congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.