Christmas Lights and My Aspiration to be Clark Griswold

The weekend after Thanksgiving is always our time to put up the outdoor Christmas lights.  I know some of you take advantage of the nicer weather and do it before Thanksgiving, however I do implore you not to turn them on until all of the turkey leftovers have been put away, and the last plate is washed and dried.  One holiday at a time please.  The week before Thanksgiving I act as the Christmas light police.  I yell at people (with my car windows rolled up, of course) to turn off their lights until after Thanksgiving dinner.  Next year I am threatening to hand out violations to those that break my imposed law.

Despite being a stickler for the rules, I love Christmas lights.  The warmth and cheery glow brightens up the darkest days of winter, giving every neighborhood a festive spirit.  Our neighborhood is particularly sparkly because each house places a small Christmas tree, decorated with those old-fashioned big bulb multi-colored light strings, on their front lawn near the road.  I love driving around the neighborhood viewing everyone’s creative displays of Christmas lights, and I especially love driving up to my house after work, and seeing it all lit up.  It is much more welcoming than a dark unlit house.  As a child of the late 1970s and early 1980s, we missed these glowing displays.  It was un-American and unpatriotic to hang outdoor Christmas lights.  We were in the midst of a so-called energy crisis resulting in the loss of this display of spirit.  With the development of LED lights and I guess the resolution of the energy crisis, Christmas lights are back in a big way.

My attitude toward Christmas lights is the more the merrier, but in a tasteful way (if that makes any sense).  Apparently my love of Christmas lights is genetic.  My grandma always loved the glitz, tinsel and glitter of Christmas.  However, for a long time she did not have outdoor Christmas lights, although I think she always wanted them.  When she was quite elderly, she cajoled my dad and brothers into hanging up outdoor lights for her.  You could tell by the way she asked that this was not a whim, but something she had been planning for a while and was just waiting for our visit at Thanksgiving.  The lights she picked were of course muti-colored and they may have even blinked as well.  She also wanted icicle lights, but they were out of  the budget she had set.  So, after a trip to Wal-Mart to buy the lights, my dad and brothers went out on ladders with staple guns in hand to outline the fascia of her front porch all the way to the roof peak, so that it formed a lit up triangle.  And because my grandma couldn’t get on the ladder, and it was a small town in the Ozarks where year-around Christmas lights seem acceptable, she just left them up.  Each year at Christmas she was able to enjoy them (and who knows, maybe she turned them on in July sometimes too).

The best scene in the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is when Clark is decorating his house for Christmas.  Those were a lot of lights he put on the house, enough to blind the neighbors and make the electric company turn on the nuclear power reserves.  While my house does not look like the Griswold’s (I probably wouldn’t mind if it did but I am trying to stay tasteful), we do have our Clark Griswold moments with our Christmas lights.  Poor Clark did all that work and then could not figure out why the lights would not turn on for his big moment, until it was discovered that a light switch in the garage needed to be turned on.

  • Every year we have to wait until our fall yard cleanup is completed before we can start our light display.  One year we made the mistake of not waiting and put up our little Christmas tree in the front yard complete with lights.  Somehow the yard crew weed whacked our tree, cutting the string of Christmas lights, rendering them unusable.
  • We are pretty good about testing out all of our lights strings a week or two before we are going to put them up.  However, it does not matter.  We test and they work and then when we actually go to put them on the shrubs and trees, half of them do not work.  I think it is the work of some mischievous elves.  This means that we take at least one or more trips to the home improvement store during the process to buy more lights or an extension cord or a plug or some other necessity.  Inevitably, the project gets extended by at least an hour or more.
  • Last year we finished to find that on Sunday morning, some animal had eaten through the bottom of two of the light nets on the hedges.  I guess rather than simply pushing under the nets, the easier path was to eat through them.  I’m just happy that we did not find an electrocuted possum among the Christmas lights.
  • Despite staking the little lawn Christmas tree well into the ground, every year we have at least one storm that blows it over.  A few years ago a combination of a wet, warm, and windy December caused the tree to blow over several times.  We happened to see a neighbor sneaking over to fix our tree one morning.  It was nice he did that and even better, it did not blow over anymore that year.
  • We have one electric circuit that most of our kitchen appliances (the stove, the microwave, the coffee pot, the toaster, any other small electric appliance), all of the kitchen lights, the garage lights and conveniently the outlet where the Christmas lights plug in, all feed into.  This means that we blow that circuit several times during the month our lights are on.  Then my husband has to run out into the backyard, sometimes through the snow, to reset the Christmas lights after he has fixed the circuit.  This is especially inconvenient when you have guests for dinner and you have to turn off all of the kitchen lights and all the other appliances just so you can steam some broccoli and have the Christmas lights stay on.  We may have corrected the problem this year with a new outdoor outlet connected to a different circuit.
  • Finally, we always get rainy weather at the end of November and beginning of December, which I guess is better than snow.  The problem is a heavy rain storms trips our gfci outlet so that the lights will not turn on.  I guess it is a good safety feature so we don’t have to worry about electricity running in a wet yard, but it was disappointing when I came home last night, expecting to see my festive lit-up house, but instead just saw darkness because of the rain.


(My house in a previous year.  The rain last night meant no lights and no picture opportunity)

Even though our house may not be as bright as the Griswold’s, it sure is pretty and we have our moments to talk about. –June

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev’ry store,
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.
Sure it’s Christmas, once a-more – Johnny Mathis
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