The Flame of a Candle (story)


Nasreddin Hodja was a real person who lived in Turkey in the thirteenth century. There are many tales about Nasreddin Hodja. In some he’s wise, in some he’s foolish, and in some—as in this tale—he’s a little of both.

One bitterly cold winter night, Nasreddin Hodja sipped hot, sweet coffee and gossiped with friends. As the howling wind plopped clumps of snow against the window of the coffeehouse, the men spoke of the weather.

“You think this is cold?” Hodja asked. “When I was a child, it was so cold the clouds froze in the sky. But it didn’t bother me. I’d go down to the river, cut a hole in the ice, and go for a nice swim.”

Hodja was known to brag.

“I could stay out on a night like this with nothing to keep me warm,” he boasted.

“With no coat, no blanket, no fire, no hot tea?”


The men scoffed in disbelief.

“I’ll show you,” Hodja said. “If I can’t stay out all night without a fire or any protection, I’ll invite you to a feast at my house.”

Who could refuse such an offer?

Hodja’s friends went to their warm houses. They sat by their windows and sipped hot drinks as they watched Hodja wandering in the snow-covered marketplace, studying the cold stars.

After a few hours, Hodja, shivering mightily, wished he’d never made such a foolish offer. He was about to give up and go inside before he froze to death. Then he saw a candle flickering in a window of a house a hundred yards away.

He fastened his gaze on the candle flame.He fastened his gaze on the candle flame and was able to endure the bitter cold the rest of the night.

At last it was morning. Teeth chattering, Hodja entered the coffee house just as his friends were sitting down for the first coffee of the day.

“Were you out there all night? And did you have nothing to keep you warm?” they asked.

Hodja assured them this was true.

“How were you able to do it?” they asked.

“I fixed my eyes on a candle flame burning in a window a hundred yards away,” he said. “It kept me going all night.”

“So!” said Ahmet. “You did have something to keep you warm. A candle flame gives off heat. You warmed yourself by the heat of that candle flame!”

No matter what Hodja said, the men were not convinced. They insisted he must have warmed himself by the heat of the candle flame burning behind a closed window a hundred yards away.

He sighed and invited them to a feast at his house.

As the muezzin sang out the prayer call at sunset, Hodja’s friends left their shoes at his door and entered his house. They sat cross-legged on the floor, awaiting the feast.

“It may be awhile,” Hodja said.

“That’s all right. We can wait,” they said.

Time passed. Hodja went back and forth to the kitchen, but the men detected no good smells of roasting meat or frying onions. They were getting hungrier and hungrier.

“When do we eat?” one of them inquired.

“The food is being prepared,” Hodja answered on his way to the kitchen.

“Maybe we can help,” another one said, and they all followed Hodja into the kitchen.

A huge pot hung on a chain from the ceiling. Beneath it on the floor flickered a candle.

“Hodja,” Mehmet said, “it will take forever for the heat of that candle flame to cook our dinner.”

“It should boil soon,” Hodja said. “After all, if a candle burning behind a closed window a hundred yards away can keep me warm on a winter night, the flame of this candle just a few feet away can surely heat the pot.”

A Turkish Folktale Retold by Marci Stillerman Illustrated by Cheryl Kirk Noll.

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