St. John United Methodist Church will hold its 12th annual Longest Night ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 21 beginning at 6 p.m.

Music Ministry Director Catherine Stapleton said the event started in 2002 as a way for residents to commemorate their lost loved ones. Stapleton said her relationship with the event dates back even further after the passing of her late husband.

“I wish there was an event like this when I was a very young widow,” Stapleton said. “It doesn't make us feel bad for not being celebratory around the Christmas holidays. And at the same time, it encourages us to enjoy the holidays.”

Over the years, the event has branched out into a broader symbol of hope. Participants light candles for their lost loved ones and for various other reasons. Stapleton said people light candles as symbols of hope for employment, relationships, emotional strength and several other things.

“It can represent anything that person wants it to represent,” she said. “It has become something that people count on. It's a memorable thing for those who come back each year and also attracts a share of newer people each year.”

She added, “Dec. 21 is the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year. After that, days begin to lengthen. We view that as a sign of hope and it reemphasizes God's plan for us.”

St. John United Methodist Church is located at 104 Newberry St. in Aiken.