Christmas Light Ups and Downs

It’s time to put up the Christmas lights. Not my finest hour.

For a lot of people putting up the Christmas lights means the start of the holiday season, Christmas is coming, and you can show all your neighbors that you’re more festive than the next-door guy. I get a little ulcer in one spot in my stomach that’s reserved just for the day I put up the Christmas lights.

Technically I enjoy it, but the thought of it gives me anxiety. It requires a lot of patience, inventiveness and knowledge of electrical equipment like extension cords, and I’m not swimming in any of those.

I do the lights all by myself and always have. My husband hates Christmas lights and refuses to participate in putting them up on our house. In fact he hates all Christmas decorations. I’ve accused him of being a secret Muslim, he is such an anti-Christmas-decor-ite. Sometimes while I’m up on a ladder with lights strung around my neck, struggling to get to a high branch, he’ll come out with a cup of coffee, remark at how “freezing” it is outside, and say hello.

“Aren’t you embarrassed that your wife is the only female out here putting up lights today?” one of our neighbors asked him one year. It was true. All down our street were dads putting up lights, lots of man-talk and beers passing back and forth. And me.

“Mmmm, no,” my husband said. See? I think he’s Jewish.

When it comes time to get the decorations out, he always claims it’s too early. “Aren’t you jumping the gun again this year?” he’ll ask me, as he watches me dragging coffin-sized plastic bins from the garage. He’s standing there with a cup of coffee, calmly watching me struggle.

“Gee, I don’t think so, seeing as it’s December 23rd and the stores are all full of Easter baskets.”

The first year I decided to do lights, my husband was away and we were living in Chicago. I bought the lights as a surprise and strung them on the front bushes - multi-colored, much to the kids’ delight - and then we got whacked with a huge blizzard. He was supposed to fly home on Christmas eve and I wanted the house to be all lit up when he pulled up. The weather was so crappy and violent that all my carefully strung lights went out. I called my friend Kathleen, whose husband had way more Christmas spirit than mine and who had been putting lights up for years.

“Your breaker probably went off. Go find the red breaker reset button and push it. And hurry up! It’s almost Christmas, for crying out loud!”

This was much harder than I expected. Finding the red breaker reset button? Where was that even?

“Oh forget it, I don’t want to do this anymore,” I told Kathleen.

“Get those lights on! Come on, damnit! Where’s your freakin’ Christmas spirit?”

So I found the button and jiggled the lights around and they went back on. (Sometimes Christmas miracles can happen, even if you’re using the lord’s name in vain.) My husband pulled up after a harrowing flight and ride from the airport to find our bushes covered with 3 feet of snow, the lights barely glowing underneath.

The worst year for our lights was when we lived in northern New Jersey and I had to get the lights up fast for a Christmas party we were having. We had just gotten a new roof, so I had to wait until the roofers had left with all their debris. I did a fast, half-assed job. The night of the party, I switched the lights on and only half the house was lit. I spent an hour outside in a black cocktail dress and snow boots getting them back on. I lost a good hour of getting a head start on drinking the good wine before our guests arrived.

When I was growing up, we used to pile into the station wagon and drive around Hubbard, looking at the Christmas lights everyone else had up. This was also an era when “going for a drive” was something you would do. Just drive around in the station wagon, kids jumping and romping in the back seat, the way back seat and the coveted “way way back”. I tried driving around looking at Christmas lights with the kids a couple of years ago and they tried to jump out of the moving car and call Children’s Services from their cell phones.

In Lexington they fill the big Horse Park with Christmas lights and charge people to drive through looking at them. You would think this is a holdover from a bygone era, but people actually pay to see these lights! Who, you ask. Who would pay $12 a car to drive around looking at lights? Yeah, we did that one year. I thought I might get some ideas for our own house, but from what I could see in the dark, they had the mother of all extension cords that even the Griswolds couldn’t handle. In our Florida house, I don’t know where the reset button is, so I think I better stick with a simpler plan.

Labels: , ,