The Annual Lights Fight: A Family Tradition

Tussling with those outdoor Christmas decorations is all part of the season's pageantry

It’s as old and as treasured as singing “Silent Night” or hanging the stockings by the chimney with care. It’s the tradition of Mom or Dad losing their minds over hanging the outdoor Christmas lights.

This chore always starts off fine. Mom or Dad turns to the kiddies lounging in front of the TV on a crisp Saturday morning and says brightly, “It’s time to hang the lights outside, kids! Which one of you is helping me?”

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Of course, none of the kids is too alarmed when the topic is initially brought up — they know it will take their parents half the day to find the lights. Many a parent has been located up in the attic leafing through old family photo albums and chuckling in remembrance or embarrassment after being unable to find the Christmas lights.

Once the lights are located, things get really interesting. Toddlers, of course, want to help — and will spend all their time “helping” by wandering around in the yard pulling off their mittens and hat and disappearing from view, so that Mom or Dad has to jump off the ladder and run to stop them from wandering into incoming traffic.

Teens, for their part, they will instantly remember that history paper they need to finish or that their room desperately needs cleaning. Kids who have a hard time leaving the couch to use the restroom suddenly are as responsible as air traffic controllers when it’s light-hanging time.

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It’s the tweens that parents need to focus on for this holiday chore — partly because of their height (they can reach up to Mom or Dad, wobbling up on the ladder holding trailing strands of lights), and also because they are old enough to have at least some sort of attention span. Note: If they have cellphones, take them away — many a father has been driven insane by a youngster chuckling over a YouTube video of a chimp riding a tricycle while stepping on those tiny little lightbulbs and crushing them.

There’s one cardinal rule to outdoor lights: First, check to make sure the lights actually work. How many dads have proudly yelled, “All right, get ready, family! Line up! Here come the lights!” only to plug them in and … nothing. One small bulb is just the tiniest bit unscrewed, affecting the whole string. Holiday lights are really just a giant game of electrical Jenga — upset one, and all the others follow suit.

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The wise parent starts the whole process by first plugging in the tangled mess of lights indoors, to make sure they work. If they do, the untangling begins.

This, too, starts out on a high note. “It’s not so bad,” Dad mumbles under his breath, weaving one end in and out of loops of lights. Within five minutes, you will hear the following: “How the heck many strands are in here?”

“All right, check each individual bulb to make sure it’s tight — there are only 200.”

Holiday lights are really a giant game of electrical Jenga — upset one, and all the others follow suit.

“Do we really need lights this year? Isn’t the tree enough?”

Many folks have wised up and switched to icicle lights. These are hanging strands of various lengths that look like sparkly icicles when plugged in. The problem is — for some reason, these are very easy to leave up all year. A simple drive through the neighborhood will show that when it comes to taking these down, the prevailing attitude is, “Meh, they are hardly noticeable. Saves me time next year!” Maybe they just grow on people.

A very newfangled Christmas lighting system is called the laser light projector — and contrary to its name, you do not need a professional background that includes space flight to operate it. Simply put the projector in the yard, aim it at your house, and turn it on. Boom — your house will be covered in millions of tiny sparkly colors. (Unless a neighborhood dog or a deer bumps it — then your house will look average, but the sky and half your neighbor’s house will look fabulous.)

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Whatever the method — find the magic in the work that comes with the holiday season. Christmas is a time for peace, a time for calm. Until one tiny light shorts out on the shrubs, of course. Then, it’s right back to holiday stress!

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