Decking the Nubble Light at Christmas | Up Close

A beloved lighthouse tradition shines on in Maine with the annual Nubble Light lighting.

By Mel Allen

Oct 06 2020

Nubble Light Lighting at Christmas

Nubble Light

Photo Credit : Jeff Bazinet
The most iconic of Maine’s 65 lighthouses stands less than 300 feet from the mainland, separated by a choppy inlet off the tip of York’s Cape Neddick Peninsula. Its official name is Cape Neddick Light, but to the millions who have come to tiny Sohier Park to gaze and photograph it, it is simply Nubble Light, whose beacon and horn have protected ships since 1879.
Nubble Light Lighting at Christmas
The town of York, Maine, has been decorating Nubble Light for Christmas since 1987, expanding on a tradition started by the lighthouse’s former Coast Guard keepers. Today, the Nubble Light lighting ceremony is a much-anticipated event.
Photo Credit : Jeff Bazinet

Its nickname comes from the 2.8-acre nub of granite upon which it sits, but its hold on people’s hearts comes from its near-perfect symmetry of sea, sky, outbuilding, keeper’s house, white fence, tower—a dreamlike portrait of function made beautiful. In 1977, when the Voyager probes blasted off for Jupiter and beyond in search of possible alien life, they carried images showing what we revered here on Earth. Among those images: the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canyon, and Nubble Light. It is all the more alluring because it stands so resolute, so close, yet you cannot step onto the island to touch it. 

Nubble Light is never more loved by those who know it best, the people of York and southern Maine, than when dark descends on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and, seemingly by magic, white lights flow across the contours of buildings, fence, tower—a silent declaration that winter can wait, this holiday season is a time of delight.

Until a few years ago, everyone would stream into Sohier Park for a 6 p.m. countdown, shouting “4-3-2-1” in hopes their combined voices would reach across the waves to whoever waited on the island to flick the switch. Now, to help with crowds, the lights simply come on when it gets dark (a process that then repeats nightly until New Year’s). The 30-year tradition has morphed into something of a party, people flowing in and out like the tide. Beginning at 3 p.m., buses carry people from the high school and the beach. There is Santa, and live reindeer, and thousands of free cookies baked by locals.

Nearly every place has a tree lighting. But only here, in the dark, you can imagine these lights like tiny stars in the sky, shining and forming the perfection of a constellation called Nubble Light.

For information on this year’s lighting and to see a live webcam, go to