The Carol of the Candles
~ Act One ~
It was Christmas Eve in Candle City. In a bleak back room a red, half‑spent candle burned in an old whiskey glass, the bottom half of which was filled with old cigarette butts, an empty matchbook and a couple of champagne corks. The candle’s name was Mary M, and her flame danced brightly as tiny streams of wax trickled down her sides, which were draped with a string of cheap glass beads.
Mary M was a barmaid in the Boiler Room Bar located in the lower north end of town. On this Christmas Eve — as a heavy snowfall covered the city, and families and friends gathered around their Christmas trees — the Boiler Room Bar was all but empty.
One lone customer sat at the bar talking to the bored bartender, who was leaning back against the sink with his arms folded. At a small table in the back of the bar, Mary M sat with her arm around a young sailor, his head resting on her shoulder. The sailor was homesick and melancholy — it was Christmas Eve, and he was far from home.
Mary M sang softly to him, “I’ll be home for Christmas, just you wait...” when suddenly the front door flew open. Into the bar blew a white whirlwind of snow. In the center of the swirl stood three tall white candles carrying bags filled with gift boxes.
“Excuse us, please,” said the tallest of the three candles, each of whose wicks was still perfectly wrapped in wax. “We’ve got some gifts for the poor people. Would you direct us to the City Shelter for the Homeless?”
Mary M stood up and, wearing her best smile, walked over to greet the three strangers. “Merry Christmas, and welcome to the Boiler Room Bar. Care for a drink?”
“No, thank you, Miss. It’s late, and we have to get back for Midnight Mass. Could you kindly direct us to the Shelter for the Homeless?”
The three tall candles thanked her and left the bar. As they walked down the street, one said, “Whew! She was something else! I bet before the night’s over she’ll roll that drunk sailor for all he’s got.”
“Did you notice?” said the second candle. “She’s got the disease! She’s already wasting away! Why don’t those kind of people take care of themselves?”
After a pause, the third candle added, “There, but for the grace of God, go I!” Walking in silence, the three candles, carrying their bags of gifts, disappeared into the darkness of the night.
~ Act Two ~
Sometime later, the three white candles, without their bags of gifts, came walking back up the street. The snow swirled in great white clouds around a neon light flashing BAR‑BAR‑BAR. Beneath it stood Mary M, looking up at the falling snow with the wide‑eyed wonder of a child who was delighting in the white winter ballet for the first time. When she saw the three approaching, she called out happily, “Hey, did you three find the place OK?”
“Yes, thank you,” answered the tallest of the three candles, “your directions were excellent. Well, have a very Merry....”
“That was neat of you three, I mean bringing gifts down here to the poor on Christmas Eve. I’d tip my hat to you,” giggled Mary M, “if I wore one. We don’t see beautiful candles like you down here very often. You’re so tall and straight, so perfectly white.”
“Thank you, Miss,” said one of them. “You see, we’re church candles. We’re made of pure, guaranteed‑natural beeswax. See, it’s stamped right here on us. Church law requires that, you know! Nothing less than 51% pure beeswax for us church candles.”
“And,” added another, “we’re not just ordinary church candles; we’re also blessed candles!”
“Really!” said Mary M in wonderment. “I guess I should have known by just looking at you. How lucky you are, I mean to be blessed by the church, and to be so pure: 51% natural beeswax!”
“Yes, and also, Miss,” said the third candle, “besides being blessed, the three of us have a mission in life!”
“A mission!” said Mary M in amazement. “You mean you’ve got some higher purpose for being alive? Gosh, you three are really fortunate. Most of us just live day to day, trying to make ends meet. Hey, how about that drink I offered you. Don’t worry, it’s on me tonight; after all, this is Christmas Eve.”
“Thank you, Miss, but we’ve got to keep moving or we’ll miss Midnight Mass. Merry Christmas and God bless you.” The three tall candles turned to leave, casting sly side-glances at one another.
“Hey, wait a minute,” said Mary M, “I forgot to ask. What is your mission in life?”
The three proudly answered in one voice, “We’ve been called to be ‘the Light of the World’!”
“Yeah?” Mary M replied, “but you ain’t even aflame! Look, your wicks are still wrapped in wax! Regardless of how much pure beeswax you’ve got in you, or if you’ve been blessed by the church, how are you gonna’ be the Light of the World if you’re not afire? You three had better pray! Yeah, pray for a miracle — a Christmas miracle. You’re gonna’ need one if you’re going to be the Light of the World.” She waved good-bye to the three. Then, shaking her head, Mary M turned and went back into the bar to give a little love to the young homesick sailor.
~ Act Three ~
As the three tall white candles hurried down the street toward their BMW, one said, “What did she say?”
“She said, ‘We’d better pray for a miracle,’” replied the second candle.
“What kind of miracle?” asked the first candle.
“I’m not sure. Did you notice, though, that there was something really different about that red candle?” the second candle wondered.
“Who could have missed it!” said the third candle. “She was on fire! But you know as well as I what that means: She’s got the disease that wastes you away! It’s only a matter of time before...before she’s gone.”
“I know that,” said the second candle, “but did you see the way she lit up that dingy bar? And what she did to this dark street — even with all this snow falling, she outshone that neon light. Maybe she meant that we should pray to be set on fire so that our light really can shine?”
“Yeah, I know that,” the second candle answered. “But, what if...what if we’re supposed to shine now? I think we ought to pray.”
As the three candles stood in silence, the snow stopped falling and the clouds parted to reveal a star‑crowded sky. The three prayed aloud, “O God, set us on fire, tonight, here, now!” Then the three white candles bent their heads in silent prayer. In the process, however, they failed to see the shooting star. It was huge. It blazed across the night sky like a giant Fourth of July sparkler.
Some who saw the star that night said it was a Chinese satellite reentering the atmosphere. Others claimed it was a UFO. Whatever it was, it fell directly onto the street a block down from the Boiler Room Bar in a gigantic explosion of silent light — causing the wicks of the three tall white candles to burst into flames!