Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Christmas Lantern Festival: The Story of the Brightest Light in the World

“Look at the glowing lanterns on the river,” said 10-year-old Jule Schmidt to her 7-year-old brother named Killian, holding his hand. He held her hand so tight that sometimes she didn’t know how he would ever let go. 

Since birth, he had been blind, and she tried to see for him, pointing out all the wonderful sights in the world. Although she knew that he could not see the lanterns, she spoke to him as if he could see anyhow. She was his eyes. 

“I’m imagining what the lanterns might look like,” Killian, standing still and thinking hard of everything he knew to be bright. On this Christmas Eve, the Schmidt children and their parents bundled themselves up in hats and scarves to watch lanterns float down the Rhine River. The river was lined with snow-covered castles, rocks, cliffs, trees, and firs.

Over the years, Jule’s parents had been so disappointed that Killian could not see. There was so much in life that they couldn’t share with him, like the details in hand-carved Christmas tree decorations or in the starry winter sky.

Despite the misfortune, the Schmidts loved to place lanterns on the river during the night before Christmas with their friends in Rüdesheim, Germany. Then, they would watch the lanterns float down the river, while singing Christmas carols and taking pictures. Of course, this was before they exchanged gifts, many of which were handmade, painted toys. 

“Let’s go sit by the bridge,” Jule said to Killian, wandering from their parents to a rickety old bridge at a narrow part of the river. The bridge had been hardly used in recent years, but at times, people still crossed it if they had a special prayer.

Jule liked to make prayers to the angels and had insisted that she had met a large angel by the bridge on the river.

“I met an angel who once told me that you would be healed of blindness,” Jule said, who often prayed for her brother.

“Now tell me if you see her,” Jule said to Killian. “She had long golden hair and a pink dress with a blue flowing jacket.”

“She must have wings. Does she have wings?” Killian said. “Like the wings on the bird in mother’s garden that I held.”

“Of course, she has wings, silly,” Jule said. “She likes to visit this bridge. That’s where I saw her before . . .”

As Killian sat down on the corner of the bridge, Jule sat beside him, hoping that the angel would appear for Christmas. The brother and sister were so caught up in Christmas excitement that they didn’t notice the loose boards on the bridge.

“When I spoke to the angel, she said that at certain seasons she descends into the river and stirs up the water, whoever then first, after she stirs up the water, steps into the river is made well from whatever disease is in their body,” Jule said.

“I don’t think I should get into the river,” Killian said. “I can’t swim, and I might drown. It’s too dangerous.”

“Well, just don’t let go of my hand,” Jule said, as a mighty wind blew the lanterns across the river in a squall.

With that, the side of the bridge where Killian and Jule were sitting broke, and the brother and sister fell into the river.

“Help!” Killian said, falling into the river first before his sister. He held her hand as tight as he could. “Somebody, help!” 

“Oh, no!” Jule said, kicking her legs extra hard, to paddle for her and her brother. “Save us! Angel, come and save us.”

Although Jule kicked as hard as she could, it was not enough to keep her and her brother afloat in the river. They were sucked into a downward spiral. As the siblings fell into the deep water, Jule heard screaming from the bank of the river.

Her father jumped into the dark river, swimming madly, trying to find the children, who were hidden in the night.

“The angel said my brother would be healed,” Jule cried out as loud as she could under the deep river. 

While the air began to run out in each of the children’s lungs, weeping was not an option, and fear filled their bodies. 

As Jule looked at her brother with remorse, knowing he couldn’t see her, a bright light shone on them from above the river. Then a loud voice boomed throughout the rippling water: “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened.”

Suddenly, scales fell from Killian’s eyes into the bottom of the sea, and the angel with long golden hair, and a pink dress with a blue flowing jacket stood before them with their father at her side. She was twice as big as their father. 

Mr. Schmidt, whose first name was Christoph, grabbed both children by the arms, and swam to the surface. Oddly enough, both children felt a second pair of large hands on their forearms from the angel in the pink dress. 

The crowd of people on the riverbank had thrown a scarf into the river, which Christoph grabbed. The father and his two children were pulled to shore as the angel did more than her share of towing the family to the bank.

“Daddy, I can see!” Killian said, landing in the snow. “Oh, my eyes! That’s what it must mean if something’s bright.”

Killian covered his eyes from the shining lights from the Christmas lanterns, burying his head in his father’s shoulder. The cold wind blew against the father and his children. Once on land, the crowd shared their dry coats, hats, and gloves.

“Killian! My baby,” Mrs. Schmidt cried, holding her child in her arms, rubbing his skin to make him warm again. 

“I hope the three of you don’t get pneumonia!” Lisa, their mother said. “Ring out your clothes before they freeze!”

“Did you see the angel in pink, Killian?” Jule said, burying her head in her mother’s coat. “Did you hear the voice?”

“Oh, the two of you almost died!” Christoph said. “Look at me son! Can you really see? It is actually true?”

“I can see you, Dad!” Killian said. “There was a lady in the river with you that grabbed me and Jule, but it wasn’t Mom. She’s still standing over there and singing a beautiful song. Who is she?” he said, pointing to the middle of the river, where no one could stand without sinking. 

The mysterious woman looked almost like Jesus would have walking on water. Jule knew it was the angel that she had met, who promised her brother’s healing.

“Lisa, our boy can see! How can this be?” Christoph said to his wife, huddling with his family among the onlookers. 

Mr. Schmidt moved his fingers in front of Killian’s face and watched the boy’s eyes follow his hand. 

“I’m not sure who he’s seeing over the river though,” Mr. Schmidt said with a worried look on his face.

When Killian’s father turned around, neither Jule nor her parents could see The Angel that Troubled the Waters on Christmas Eve. After a few moments, Killian couldn’t see her either. “She’s gone, Dad. She must be a good swimmer.”

“I’m freezing,” Jule said. “Let’s run home and make a fire with lots of logs and eat fruitcake and gingerbread. I’m going to teach you the name of everything that you never saw before. The whole world is new! All because the bridge broke!”

As Jule looked over her shoulder, she saw one last glimpse of the angel that had saved her brother, who waved at her and smiled. All the trouble had somehow been turned to good, because her brother could see clearer than ever at Christmas. 


Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters 

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