Digest>Archives> December 2008

Colin's Christmas Candle

By Barbara Raftery


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Colin walked slowly home from school, scuffing his feet as he crossed the hills of the little fishing village. It did not seem like Christmas Eve. Perhaps this was because it had not yet snowed. But Colin knew there was another reason why it did not seem like Christmas — a reason he did not dare even whisper in his heart.

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He looked across the valley toward the lead colored sea. There was not a speck of a ship on the horizon. There had been none for seven days now. And seven days ago his father’s fishing schooner had been due home.

“I’ll bring you that puppy we’ve been talking about.” Colin’s father had said the morning he left. “You’ll have it a week before Christmas to be sure.”

But it was already Christmas Eve. Colin looked toward the lighthouse high on the hill. Seven days ago a north gale had short-circuited the lighthouse wires, and had snuffed the great light. For seven days there had been no light to guide a schooner home.

Colin pushed open the door of his mother’s cottage. He heard her moving in the kitchen. “We’ll need more wood for the fire, Colin,” she said as she came into the front room. “It’s nearly burned itself out, and it’s nigh time to light the candle for the Christ Child.”

“I’m not caring much about lighting a candle, Mother,” he said.

“I know, for I’m not caring much either,” replied his mother. “But everybody in the village lights a candle on Christmas Eve. Even when there’s sadness in the house, you must light the candle. ‘Tis a symbol that your house and heart are open to poor strangers. Come now, I’ve two candles, one for each of us. If you gather some wood, we'll be ready for supper soon.”

Colin went outside and hitched a basket to the donkey’s back. He led the animal up the hill a way, so that he could gather the wood. “I’m not caring much about lighting a candle,” he said as he glanced toward the lighthouse, “when there’s not so much a beam of light to guide a schooner home.” The donkey shook his head and neighed sadly, almost as if he had understood.

But while he was staring at the lighthouse, Colin had an idea. It hit him like a gust of wind, touching the top of him and spreading down until his whole spine tingled. He turned on his heels and started running up the long hill. When he came to the lighthouse he pounded on the door. Mr. Duffy, the lighthouse keeper, padded across the room inside and opened the door a crack. “What’s got into you, young fellow, startling an old man like me - and on blistery Christmas Eve, too?”

“Mr. Duffy,” gasped Colin, “How did you light the lighthouse? Could you do it again?”

“Why the electric batteries are blown, my boy. Dead as can be! And they are special batteries that are not to be bought anywhere, I tried. So we just have to wait for the lighthouse tender, whenever that might be.

“I mean, how did you light the lighthouse before there were such things as batteries?”

“Why, by the oil lamp that’s buried in the cellar. Now what wild thing have ye in mind? There’s no oil kept here anymore.” Mr. Duffy stared at Colin and then lowered his voice. “Sure, ‘tis your father you’re thinking of, if he’s one of those on the lost schooner…”

“Would kerosene light the lamp?”

“Well, I suppose,” Mr. Duffy mused, “kerosene was used at many lighthouses after they stopped using oil and before batteries. But don’t go getting any ideas in your head, lad. I’d like to see anyone find a quart of oil or kerosene in this village, never mind enough to…”

Colin was gone before Mr. Duffy could finish his sentence.

Down, down the hill he ran, back to the cottage. Quickly he gathered four pails from the kitchen and darted for the door. His mother ran after him to the steps. “Colin, ‘tis time to light… Colin!” But he was gone.

Colin knew that a lit candle in any village home on Christmas Eve meant that any stranger coming to the door would be welcomed and given whatever he asked. It was five o’clock now, and he could see candles beginning to glow in every home in the village. He didn’t stop running until he came to the first house.

“Could you spare me but half a cup of kerosene?” he asked. “Have you any kerosene in your cellar?” Colin went to every house where a candle shone in the window.

In one hour he had filled two small pails. Slowly and painfully he carted them, one by one, up to the lighthouse door.

He knocked. Mr. Duffy appeared, and stared. “What manner of miracle is this?” he asked. This isn’t enough to keep that big lamp burning for the night.”

“I’ll get more yet,” Colin shouted, as he started down the hill. “It’s early still.”

After two more long hours, Colin had gathered more pails of kerosene. When he was halfway up the hill for the second time, he saw the tower suddenly flicker and quiver with light. Suddenly, a great beam spread out above the village, and stretched toward the dark heart of the sea. Mr. Duffy had lighted the lamp!

When Colin reached home it was very late. His mother jumped from her seat near the fire. “Colin, where have you been? You’d had no supper, nor lighted your candle!”

“I’ve lighted a candle, mother, and a big one! ‘Tis a secret and I can’t tell you yet. But it was a huge candle indeed!”

After that, Colin ate his supper and went quietly to bed.

He dreamed all night of candles, and fishing schooners, and kegs of kerosene. Then a great shouting aroused him from his sleep. “The ship has come in! The ship has come in!”

It seemed as if a hundred voices were spinning in this head. “Twas the light it was, they say — the light that Mr. Duffy lighted. They were but ten miles out all week after the storm, just drifting in the darkness by night and the fog by day, not sure of their location.”

Colin opened his eyes. He saw that dawn was breaking and that his mother was standing at the door. People were milling outside their quaint little seaside home. He bounded from bed and pulled on his clothes. He ran to the door and looked toward the harbor. It was true! There was the schooner with its rigging standing out as black as coal against the gray of the sea.

Colin darted across the yard, and raced for the harbor. He felt a moist wind in his face. It was beginning to snow. Oh, it was Christmas all right, falling from heaven and right into his heart!

This story appeared in the December 2008 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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