Bishop Rock, photo by Richard Knights, Creative Commons


Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper at Christmas at one of the isolated lighthouses in the middle of the water? Here’s a story about how some lighthouse keepers in the United Kingdom spent Christmas.

It was early December 1969, and time for the lighthouse keeper to return to the lighthouse and relieve another keeper. His last three weeks at home would have to suffice for the holidays because he would not be home for Christmas.

The keeper boarded the helicopter that would take him six miles out in the Atlantic Ocean to a lone lighthouse, noticing the dark sky and the howl of gale force winds. Boxes of supplies containing enough food to feed three keepers for a month plus some extra treats were loaded onto the chopper along with him.

Buffeted by the wind, the helicopter made it to the lighthouse and landed on the small helipad on top. The boxes were unloaded and lowered through hatches in the landing platform to the keepers that waited below, while the keeper who was going home climbed into the helicopter and took off.

At the lighthouse, the keepers emptied the boxes and stored the meat in their fridge. They discussed news at home and from other lighthouses. As they opened boxes, they found a letter from the local rotary club who had sent a Christmas gift for all of them.

They’d received all they needed for their Christmas meal—meat, potatoes and even a cake. Everything else in the box was in threes—three tins of fruit, three small Christmas puddings, three stockings of oranges, apples and nuts, so that each man received an equal share of goodies. In addition to the rotary club, the keepers got other treats from churches or school groups who also sent letters and cards to let the keepers know they had not been forgotten. In addition, the keepers received presents from their own families back on the mainland.

The lighthouse was decorated with streamers and Christmas cards they had received, plus an old artificial Christmas tree that they brought out of the closet once a year.

Skerryvore lighthouse

On Christmas Day, the keepers greeted each other in the kitchen at breakfast and exchanged small gifts. Next, they unwrapped presents from their families while back on the mainland, their families were also opening presents. The keeper who was the “cook of the day” returned to get dinner ready while the other two left the kitchen to telephone their homes and wish them Merry Christmas.

When the three lighthouse keepers finished their noontime Christmas dinner, they helped clean up the kitchen. Afterward, they retired to the lighthouse sitting room where they donned colored paper hats and pulled Christmas crackers. Then they lit cigars and poured beverages to sit back and watch the queen’s speech on the “telly.”

When the queen’s speech was over, the men turned on the radio transmitter. Ever since radio was introduced to the lighthouses, a tradition began that on the afternoon of Christmas Day, each lighthouse would use a special frequency to call other lighthouses, some up to a hundred miles away, spreading Christmas joy by singing Christmas carols to each other. Some of their families back home listened to the same frequency, enjoying a unique time of “togetherness.”

Too soon, the holiday celebration was over, and the keepers returned to their duties. The engine that runs the light was started, the curtains around the lantern room were removed and the electric motor that begins the rotations of the light was turned on so it would be seen by ships out at sea.

After the light was activated, the keepers sat down to enjoy fresh hot tea and finally cut the Christmas cake which they ate with bowls of fruit and cream. Perhaps it wasn’t the best way to spend Christmas, but they were still able to enjoy the holiday. And hopefully, the next year, they would be able to enjoy it at home with their families.

Bell Rock Lighthouse


“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

Merry Christmas!