The Agony and Ecstasy of Christmas Lights

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tangled-christmas-lightsI love Christmas lights. I remember when I was little, Papa and Granny Wham would take me out riding every Christmas season to look at lights in Fountain Inn. We’d always ride out to a place called Stewart’s Lake. Now today, places like Stewart’s Lake are everywhere, but back then it was the only game in town. The entire yard was lit up like, well . . . a Christmas tree! They had elves and Santas and three or four Nativity scenes, just lights everywhere. It was breathtaking to my single digit eyes. I remember even then asking Papa Wham who put all those lights up every year. He said he didn’t know and I was amazed because Papa Wham knew everything.

I used to “help” Papa put the lights on their Christmas tree every chance I got. I would always be put out when he would put the lights on without me while I wasn’t there. I realize now I was as much help to him then as my big fuzzy Keaudie dog is to me as I try to accomplish the same task!

Papa and Granny had those big lights on their tree. If you didn’t clip them on right and they lay against the artificial tree, they’d melt the plastic “needles” to the bulb. Granny always worried it would start a fire. As for me, I blistered my finger more than once touching one of the bulbs while it was lit. You can’t buy those kinds of bulbs anymore; I don’t think the safety gurus would let them get by.

Now, I am responsible for stringing lights on my own tree and I appreciate Papa’s toil more and more as the years go by. For the last two years, Budge and I have been so proud of getting the lights on the tree that we dispensed with putting ornaments on afterwards. Actually, what happened was we were so tired and frustrated at finally wrestling the lights onto the tree, we stopped to take a break and go eat dinner and just never made it back. So we had a 500 light green lamp in one corner of the room for the past two Christmas seasons. This year we swore would be different.

This year, Budge and I had a plan. Now as anyone knows, a plan – no matter how well thought out and put together – never survives the first contact with the enemy. In this case, the enemy happened to be three 600 bulb strands of lights. These lights were troopers. We’ve had them for five years, which honestly is about a hundred years in Christmas light years, and, with a little tweaking each year, they answered the bell and looked great on the tree. Still, they were part of the plan.

Now our grand decorating plan called for me to get the lights out the Monday before Thanksgiving to inspect them and make sure they were ready to roll onto the tree the day following Turkey Day. For some reason, I put it off until Tuesday. Then I gently removed all three strings of lights from their cozy year long slumber lying perfectly flat and undisturbed on top of the Christmas tree box. I’m serious, I’ve treated these lights better than some people treat their children.

When the lights last made their appearance, every bulb shone brightly. All three strands worked beautifully. They should have because I spent three hours last year cannibalizing a fourth strand of its bulbs in order to make sure three strands would work. Given all the effort I had put into tuning the lights and carefully storing them, I felt confident I would have no problems this year. I’d simply plug in the lights, replace a wayward bulb or two and all would be well. Budge and I would put the tree up on Black Friday and the lights would just spiral right onto the branches.

Nope. My optimism was sorely unrewarded.

I took all three strands into the hall so I could lay them out straight one by one. I rolled out the first strand and plugged it in. Half the strand lit up. Now I don’t know why I did this, but I unplugged the strand, waited a few seconds and plugged it back in. I can only assume it was an instinct from my time working on computers and I was hoping to reboot them or something. Instead, the other half of the strand lit up and the first half went dark. So it was going to be that kind of a year, eh?

I have this tool. It’s called a Light Saver or something like that and it’s designed to “fix” strands of burnt out lights. I read about how it supposedly sends a “pulse” down the strand and “rewelds” the contacts or something. I used it to get all the lights going last year and I’m convinced the thing uses some sort of dark magic, but it works. So I get out the Light Saver and plug it into the strand of half lit lights. I give it a few clicks and — like a miracle — the strand lights up . . . for ten seconds, then it all goes dark. I tried the tool again and this time the strand lay there dark, unlit, and mocking me.

I had similar results with the other two strands of lights. What was leading me to question my sanity and the laws of physics is WHY!? I took these lights off the tree last year. I laid them out and carefully made sure each bulb was lighting up as designed. All three strands were perfect! Six hundred little bulbs all winked their beautiful soft yellowish white light at me. Then I ever so gently rolled each strand up on a reel specifically designed for the job, put them away atop the tree box, and they lay there undisturbed for a year.

Now, nothing. One strand which had been the brightest last year didn’t light a single bulb this year. The Light Saver’s magic would not avail me this season. I was looking at another marathon session of robbing from one strand to try making three strands into two. I teared up a little at the thought of sore thumbs and frustration from swapping bulb after bulb. Christmas wasn’t looking so bright anymore.

On a hunch, Budge and I went to Walmart after supper that fateful night. I was shocked to see 600 lights going for $20 dollars! Now I’m not one to throw stuff away, but I snatched up two 300 light boxes as fast as I could, paid, and hit the door to show Budge my find. Forget this whole cannibalization crap.

So, Saturday evening, we put the tree up. It’s our venerable but still serviceable 18 year old artificial we bought when we first moved out from Mama’s. It takes a little longer to put up now because I have to peer at the end of the branch for a few seconds to determine what color the single fleck of paint left on the wire is. Anyway, the tree went up without a hitch. Then came the lights. Oh the joy! I plugged the new strands in and they all lit up gloriously!

The lights went on the tree super easily too, because they were packaged in a zig-zag pattern that just perfectly matched the way Budge likes to see lights on the tree. It was amazing. Instead of schlepping a huge light reel around the tree and handing it off to each other, we just passed around a little handful of lights. What usually took the better part of an hour took us barely fifteen minutes this year. Budge was pleased, which was all I needed.

Now the tree is up and lit. All we have left to do is put the ornaments on her, but we ran out of steam Saturday night before getting the totes with the ornaments in them out to the living room from storage so it remains to be seen if we will have ornaments this year, but regardless, we have a well lit tree and I’ve already decided at the end of the season I’m taking these lights off, bundling them into a ball and taking them to Goodwill. I can swing $20 a year if it keeps my sanity intact!

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and Merry Christmas!

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