Each year I light Dad’s Christmas Candle in his memory
The Christmas Candle
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“It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” Charles Dickens
Dickens could have been writing about my father, William Christian Stoos, when he said of Scrooge that he knew how to keep Christmas well. Dad was the Spirit of Christmas in our household.
Each year he anticipated the holiday with a childlike glee. Although a stoic man, and deeply spiritual , he became a child at Christmas time—his favorite time of the year. Whether it was the gaudy Christmas tree with its 2,000 lights that warmed our cozy house, the pine candles and exotic incense that filled it with the wonderful scent of Christmas, the ice tree he made each year in the front yard, or the pile of presents under the tree, which he and Mom worked so hard to buy—Dad reveled in the trappings and the spirit of Christmas. Whatever adversity the year may have brought previously was forgotten for nothing mattered more than this season. It was, for him, a time of joy, wonder, and mystery, but most of all—togetherness.
I wish I had his sense of wonder and awe at the season. I tell myself I do; however, I do not think I can ever match his. Nor have I his creativity and talent. He did everything well—from working on the house, to upholstering furniture for clients, to making leaded glass panes, lamps and candles—all of which he did during his later years after retirement. He had patience, pride in his work, and a desire for perfection that I, regrettably, did not inherit. And, above all, it was important to him that traditions—such as Christmas—be passed on, remembered, and revered.
Christmas, 1980 was special. I had just gotten out of the service and looked forward to spending Christmas with my folks and my brother. On this Christmas Day, Dad gave my brother and me a very special present. It was not the kind that you buy in the store, but the very best kind of present—the one that comes straight from the heart. This year he gave us each a leaded glass candleholder with a metal base, complete with a six-inch red pillar candle. The candleholder was fashioned from a variety of richly colored glass rectangles bound together by lead bead. It was a beautiful gift that took a lot of effort and love to create.
“Thanks, Dad,” I said, “it is beautiful.”
Dad turned the candle over and showed us the inscription etched on the bottom: ‘Christmas, 1980, Love, Dad.’ “I wanted you guys to have something to remember me by,” he said, “when I am gone.”
I was at once touched and saddened by the comment. No one wants to think about the mortality of his or her parents, especially at Christmas time. His comment was slightly foreboding, and I tried to make light of it.
“That’s a long way off, Dad,” I replied.
But, as it turns out, I was wrong. Sadly, Dad’s passing was not so far off. He did not have many years left. In fact, he would not live to see five more Christmases.
My father believed in the supernatural and I am certain he believed in spirits. He studied comparative religions, and was a very spiritual man. He certainly believed in life after death. Had he been able to return after his death, I am certain he would have found a way. That he never did, reinforced my belief that the dead do not return to us—except in memory. Yet Dad’s wish to be remembered—as if that were ever in doubt—was strangely fulfilled, just was he said.
Christmas Eve, 1985, was a bitterly cold night—the kind that stings your face and takes your breath away. My wife, newborn baby girl and I had just returned home from a Christmas Eve celebration at my in-laws. I thought a lot about Dad that season; it was the first one without him. In his honor, I had lit the Christmas Candle a couple days earlier. Not wanting to burn it down too far, I blew it out—or so I thought. The Christmas Candle sat in a prominent corner of our rustic, sunken living room on the first level of the house, waiting to be lighted on Christmas—which had become my tradition. I thought of Dad as I unlocked the front door just before entering the pitch-black house on this bone chilling evening. As I entered the house, I saw something that startled me so much that I could feel my scalp tingle and a chill run down my spine. As I peered into the coal blackness of the living room, there in the corner, sitting on the table, flickering brightly, casting eerie shadows on the rough cedar paneling and illuminating the entire ceiling above, was the Christmas Candle. What I had been so careful to blow out two days before, was magically, mysteriously, blazing brightly. I stared at it intently and remembered the words my father had said five Christmases before: “something to remember me by….” My wife chided me for leaving the candle burning, until I reminded her that I had been careful to blow it out. How could it possibly have escaped our notice for the past three days? For this, we had no immediate answer.
Now I am not a believer in ghosts, nor do I believe, really, that my dead father’s spirit lit the candle for me on Christmas Eve, 1985. Yet, he might just as well have, for the sight could not have been more startling, or his words more indelibly etched into my memory than on that night. It must me that I did not blow the candle out completely as I had thought—two days before. It could just be that, as candles sometimes do, the wick burned ever so softly, imperceptibly, unnoticed for two days—never giving a hint that it would somehow come to life on this night. Just in time for Christmas.
Each year I light Dad’s Christmas Candle in his memory. To this day, I have never totally reconciled the events of that clear, cold night, years back, when the Christmas Candle came to life. Whether natural or supernatural, the event reminded me—of Dad, of wonderful Christmases past—and his wish never to be forgotten at Christmas. Perhaps candle wicks, like memories, flicker faintly at times, and burn brightly at others. All I know is that, on this Christmas Eve, the year of Dad’s death, by some strange quirk of fate, or coincidence, whatever you want to call it, the Christmas Candle would not let me forget.
Copyright © 2013 William Kevin Stoos