Sunday, December 07, 2008

Christmas Tree. Oh, Christmass Tree...

...Your lights are so unnerving.

Yesterday marked our annual family ritual known as, The Untangling of the Lights. Like millions of men and women across the western world we peered into a cardboard box containing the head of Medusa and proceeded to test and troubleshoot last year's Christmas lights. Let me tell you something -- I built a working Heathkit radio when I was 13. In high school, I installed the tape players in my friends' cars in return for rides and contraband. I've wired houses. Yet. It remains a mystery to me how a string of lights works.

I always buy the strings that say, "Keeps on working when one bulb burns out." This is not true. Entire random stretches of bulbs stop working for no apparent reason. You can change the fuse-so-small-you-can-lose-it-under-your-fingernail buried in the plug to no effect. Or, you can do what I do: Work your way methodically along the unlit bulbs to find the culprit. Wiggle the first bulb - nothing. Put a replacement bulb in it's place - nothing. Put the original bulb back in the socket and repeat on the next bulb. Do this six or eight times, then using both hands in a rapid circular motion, wrap up the entire string, slam dunk it in the trash can and go to the hardware store for another set.

There you will find a ragtag assembly of adults with the hollow eyes of The Thousand Light Stare scanning boxes for the holiday promise, "Keeps on working when one bulb burns out." And in a true miracle of the season, we believe it. Again. Like kids who find their Christmas gifts under a tarp in the basement on December 17th and still insist that Santa Claus is coming to town.


Blogger Hello, I'm Ryan Noel. said...

I'm with you, Tom. May I call you Tom?

Just last year, I purchased several new boxes of the "Keeps on working..." bulbs. I figured I needed a fresh start, and I'd do it all at once. This way I would finally have lights on the same life cycle, which would eliminate my annual run for one or two measly strings of lights.

This year, I looked forward to plugging in each string of year-old lights with no fuse fussing to be had. I think I had one string of fully-functioning lights. Curses!

Oh, we always wrap our lights around a roll of newspaper, which helps avoid the Medusa head problem. However, this orderly approach has little affect on whether the lights actually work year to year.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Suz said...

I just went ahead and bought some lights this year before I opened the Christmas decoration boxes.

I have to tell you, that may be the secret to success. I did not need the new lights I was oh--so-ready to use.

You might want to put that one into your bag of Christmas tricks.

Have a wonderful Christmas, Tom Bodett! :)

12:10 PM  
Blogger Jeanette said...

I went ahead a splurged on the expensive LED lights last year. A squirel chewed the wires and took a bulb. The whole strand was cut in two. No lights this year!

8:50 AM  
Blogger Chris Watson said...

Tom, you speak to the heart of the American Christmas tree experience.

Really, I do make an effort to reuse last year's Christmas light. When I was a kid, we had the big huge incandescent bulbs that always seemed a hairs-breadth away from turning our tree into a vertical yule log, only not in the fireplace. Then we moved to the little bulbs and that's what I've used ever since. I figure if I can reuse them, then I minimize how much I throw out and I save the $8 that it will cost to buy a few hundred lights. Plus, I know that last year's string of lights works with the various ornaments we have that plug into the sockets and light up themselves. So I end up tempting fate twice...deliberately unplugging bulbs from the "never go out string" so I can plug in my U.S.S. Enterprise ornament with the flashing lights and, if I have to get new lights, never being 100% sure the bulb sockets on the new string will fit the ornaments I'm trying to plug in in the first place. Sigh...

Anyhow, have a very merry Christmas, Mr. Bodett! I'm asking Santa for tickets to a taping of Wait Wait so I can cheer you on in person (but not in a crazy stalker sort of way).

11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm the sort of person who gets to the store and has moments of uncertainty that usually go something like, "do we have enough dijon mustard? I'd better get an extra jar, just in case" and then find myself with a kitchen cupboard full of extra dijon, black olives, and little cans of jalapeno peppers. Same goes for Christmas lights. Every year I go to the hardware store for those special $2.99 poinsettias and come home with extra boxes of 300 mini-no-blink-ever-on lights (both in white for outside and colored for inside) "just in case". When I reach storage capacity I donate them to the local church to use for decorations at the summer carnival. It's a vicious cycle. Merry Christmas!

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After you take them down - give them to someone or sell them at a garage sale or throw them out. Then buy a new set at a discount this January for next Christmas. I never have to untangle anymore using this methodology.

1:26 PM  

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