I’ve been busy putting up Christmas lights around the house and outdoors. As long as the temperature isn’t below zero Fahrenheit, it’s a pleasant task. I feel as though I’m creating something new and worth the effort. It’s an advent in every sense of the word, and there is anticipation that something very good is about to happen. Lights bring an energy to the night, a comfort, an aesthetic hope that somehow we’ll always find a way through the dark times of our lives. I think it’s why we put lights up and why passers-by enjoy them.
Lights are not always easy to work with. Usually, before they can assume their proper role, they are a tangled mess. Even right out of the new box, there are ties to be unwound and stretching to be done so that each string of lights can reach their full extent. Time usually generates the flexibility necessary for best performance, though time can also introduce deterioration in some lines. In those cases, dependability becomes suspect and I generally lose patience in working with those lights. And patience is an essential in working with lights!
Reliability is a big issue with lights: you want to have confidence that after you’ve put them up and turned them on they’ll work. Few things are more frustrating than investing time and effort into a new string of lights and then having them fail.
Failure can come about for a number of reasons. Power is always a factor. If the source of power is compromised in any way, the lights will never shine. Likewise, if the power does not reach every bulb in the string, only a very few of the lights will glow. I’ve been intrigued by some claims which suggest that a line of lights will stay lit even if one or more burn out, but I haven’t had much success with those. It’s been far more common that every light in a string dims and eventually goes out when other bulbs are not working. Bulbs need to be checked and replaced when that happens. It’s tedious and sometimes difficult work, especially if it’s cold outside or the project is a large one with lots of other lights that could be affected. It seems as though when I start working with them I can never quite tell exactly where the problem lights are going to be; otherwise, I’d place them in a way so as to be more quickly accessible. But lights are among the most fickle of things. When I test them, they all seem to shine. But in use, there are always one or two that are burned out.
My friends who never put up lights sometimes ask me why I do it. They rightly point out that it’s time-consuming and often uncomfortable, not to mention the expense of energy. I suppose they’re correct in those observations, if I think dispassionately about them. But there are times, I’ve heard it said, when it’s best to think with one’s head but follow one’s heart, and that’s what has always encouraged me to work with lights. I can even recall the first “energy crisis” in 1974, when neighborhoods went dark on winter evenings because of the fear of not enough capacity for everyone to be served. Katie and I still placed a couple of strings down our front railings, just to remind ourselves (and anyone else who might have been looking) that lights can be very special, even in the darkest times, maybe even more so with diverse colors.
I’ve got everything completed now, or at least for the time being. I’m ready for the forces of nature, come what may. Whether it be the cold winds that howl and tug at the light strings, the snows that cover everything until even the lights can’t be seen, or the slick, freezing rains that are slippery enough to bring down the most stable display, nature will do its best to have its own way. But for now, we have lights. And we’ll work all winter to keep them lit….