Nubble Light…Like no other Lighthouse at Christmastime
Some traditions tarry through time and are simply observed, while others rekindle our spirits with a vibrant joy that is undiminished by familiarity.
A decorated Cape Neddick Lighthouse – or Nubble Light as it is affectionately known, is an annual tradition whose appeal proves captivating time and again for countless admirers. It all begins on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving when people from near and far – approximately 8,000 in all, make a sojourn to Sohier Park in York, Maine.
Young and old alike gather for the opportunity to cast a long and highly anticipated gaze upon the beloved Nubble Light; watching as the “switch is flipped” – suddenly revealing the lighthouse dressed in a sea of festive lights.
“The lighting of the Nubble is a magical atmosphere,” says Matt Rosenberg, the modern day keeper and island caretaker for the Town of York. “It has become popular enough that we now close the park to cars so kids can run around with their families as they wait for Santa to arrive.”
Rosenberg went on to note, “The Sohier Park trust board serves hot cocoa and cookies to everyone. The York High School Chamber Choir sings Christmas Carols and a dive club brings an underwater Christmas tree to the surface all lit up. When it’s time for the lights there is a big countdown by the thousands of people in the attendance – and then the lights come on lighting up the island lighthouse and park.”
During this special time of year, Nubble Light becomes much more than simply an historic light station and navigational aid.
“The event is most special for children, but it is clear that parents love sharing it with them,” says Rosenberg. “I played Santa a few times and the evening always ends with adults posing for pictures with Santa since they are just big kids at heart.”
“Keeper” Rosenberg goes on to say, “It is important from a community perspective because it is a time for all those who love the Nubble to come together. We get a lot more townspeople up there than we do at any other time of the year. From a historical perspective, it brings attention to an amazing piece of history of the Maine coast, still shining for all to admire.”
Regal in appearance by day, Nubble Light dons an altogether different persona by night when the island is doused with the spirit of Christmastime. Strings of lights may form a sparkling outline of the light station’s buildings, but the influence of these lights is not confined to a mere function of illumination.
Against a lonely backdrop shrouded by the black garb of night, a decorated Nubble Light seems to transcend reality. Simply linger and listen closely, for the scene aglow will whisper sweet holiday overtures that carry with them an invitation to reflect upon the fantasies of Christmases past and present – all during one trip of the heart to the lighthouse.
Even Old Man Winter is no match for such holiday warmth. Try as winter might, the season’s frigid winds are unable to extinguish the dreams of Christmas for those who journey to the lighthouse and bask in moments of pure wonderment.
Of course some of these dreams can only exist in our imagination, but that’s the charm of Nubble Light at Christmastime – and why so many cherish this annual tradition.
As the cover of darkness descends nightly upon Nubble Light during the holiday season, the unfolding scene can be viewed two different ways. One can choose to see the Cape Neddick Light Station as simply a festive-looking historic site, but just below the scene’s veneer is so much more waiting to be gleaned. Nubble’s illuminated outline, punctuated by the red glow of the beacon’s Fresnel lens, can serve as a “bridge of light” that will span the divide between the island and mainland; leading the heart to an untold treasure-trove of Christmas joy.
The choice is ours – but only if we believe!
Did You Know?
When did the tradition of decking Nubble Light out in Christmas lights start?
According to Nubble Light historian William O. Thomson, “In the early 1980s, Mrs. Margaret Cummings of York Beach donated lights in memory of her husband. Mrs. Cummings lived in a section of the beach known as Concordville. When she approached her neighbors Verna and Henry Rundlett about the idea, they asked if they could help. They called a few more neighbors and a small donation was added to the Cummings fund.”
Mr. Thomson goes on to note, “When the lighthouse keeper heard of the event, he volunteered to put the lights up, which started this yearly tradition. With approval from the Coast Guard commander, the Christmas light project was underway.”
The first “Lighting of the Nubble” event took place in November 1987.
Matt Rosenberg concluded, “As the keeper I love to show off the Nubble. We work hard to keep it pristine.
It never looks more beautiful than when it is lit up for Christmas. As it comes at the end of the year, it feels like the culmination of all the work we have put into it over the year.”
“I would also like to mention the many contributions of all the people involved with the Nubble and the lighting,” says Rosenberg. “It is a true community effort by the Sohier Park Board, volunteers, parks crew, and gift shop staff. The Nubble is well loved and well looked after by all of us. The lighting is that moment we all get to share every year.”
(This story was originally published in the December 2019 edition of Maine Lights Today Magazine)
To learn more about the Annual Lighting of the Nubble, visit the Town of York’s website at: nubblelight.org