Monday, December 05, 2005

While I’m thinking about Christmas…

I finished putting all the outdoor lights up, only to realize I need “one more” extension cord than I have. Well, I have more extension cords, but they’re all 25 and fifty footers… and I need one about 10 to 15 feet and intended for extended outdoor use.

It’s funny though, the memories that flow through your mind while you’re doing something like this. Well my mind anyway.

I got to thinking about when we were kids (there were seven of us in all), living the house on Newton Street in Ilion, and how decorating for the holidays was a family thing. How the trees and the lights we had for the holidays changed over the years.

I remember the early Christmas’s when we’d have a short needled pine, maybe a fir or a spruce. Then came the Aluminum trees, no lights on those, it would have been more than a little dangerous considering how well Aluminum conducts electricity. No, in those years we had this four color disk, that mounted to a fixture with a flood lamp and a motor the rotated the disk. The tree would shift from blue, to red, to green and I think an orange or yellow. They were all the rage then, everyone who had one, had it in the front window so folks passing by could see it change color. They all vanished after a couple of years, thankfully, although I here they are “in” again… retro ya know.

Then we were back to real trees, ‘Scotch pines’ as I recall. They are, as I was told at the tree yard this year, a “Yankee” tree. The lights were fairly large then, although smaller than the outdoor bulbs, and got very hot to the touch. So much so, that the tree in our house would be lit, sometime after supper, and was only left on for a couple of hours at the most.

A few years later and Mom and Dad had moved on to artificial trees. Dad always claimed it was because over time it saved money, but, I think the real deal was that they were more worried about a fire than the price of the tree. I recall he even went as far as to get a can of “Real Pine Scent” to spray on the tree each year so the house would have that fresh pine tree smell, or so the can said.

Outside, in our neighborhood, and all around our small town, folks would put up lights, Santa’s, Snowmen, Candy canes, Nativity scenes and so on. When I see depictions on TV these days of the holiday season, where the streets are snow covered and there’s a blanket of snow on everything, with each building having its own special lighting touch… it reminds me of those times.

I don’t know, if my siblings remember it that way, but I do. If they’re still drifting in here from time to time, I’d like them to chime in as well.

A Christmas that was not “white” there, was as rare as a White Christmas is here in North Carolina. So it’s not quite the ‘holidays’ for me, without the snow, although I do appreciate the balmy sixty degree temps of the past couple of days while I was outside working on the lights.

After I’d purchased my first home, I noticed that the previous owner had actually wired the Christmas lights into the house wiring, and they could be turned on by simply flicking a switch inside the house. It wasn’t until several years later that I once again was outside, in the late fall cold (temperatures in North Bay, NY this time of the year often don’t reach 40 during the day) and sometimes snow, putting up the lights. I remember thinking that he was a very smart man. Then again, when I asked him where he’d ever found the time to rake the large lawn, he just smiled at me and said: “Bill, I clean up my own messes, God put that there, not me”

I thought each year, about leaving them up, as the previous owners had, but again, it helped me get into the holiday spirit to go through the process. Somewhere along the line though, I just stopped doing it at all. Always had a tree, and indoor decorations, but not much at all outside.

I don’t remember the exact year; it might have been the mid-seventies when we made the switch from the old, large outdoor bulbs to the new, smaller “mini-lights”. One thing I do remember is how bad the original mini lights worked… if one bulb burned out, the whole string would go out (those old large bulb strings never did that!). I also recall thinking it was easier to simply replace the string than to test a couple of hundred bulbs looking for the ‘dead’ one. Fortunately, today, that problem has been long resolved.

I do remain mystified however, how a string of lights, that worked last year, suddenly ceases to function when you take it out of storage this year. It’s like there’s some built in, timed obsolescence feature or something. The third year they’re energized... they just quit working. Oh, I know, I could test bulbs, take apart the plug ends looking for those little inline fuses and test those…. But the truth is, these little sets are so inexpensive these days, it hardly seems worth the effort over a couple of dollars.

I also tend to start to get carried away as I’m putting up the lights too… I start envisioning a snowman on the roof, big candy canes by the front door, fake present boxes complete with lit edges under the cedar trees…. And on and on…

Slowly, as I start thinking about what I’ll do with it all after the holidays, where will I store all the stuff, I realize I’m happy with the just the lights…. But then again… there was this one item… and I do need that extra cord…. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Well, I got the cord, and this nifty photosensitive timer to automatically turn the lights on, I got it all wrapped up before dark, and the rain set in and waited patiently for nightfall and our first ‘lighting’. Everything went like clockwork, it got dark, the lights came on, and all was right with the world.

A little while later though, Maryan commented, “I didn’t know you intended to put a flasher on the outdoor lights” … Now she knows I wouldn’t do that, I don’t like those flashing light strings, never have… so I walked to the front window to see what was going on.

There it was, she was right, the entire lighting project was flashing… randomly even… but flashing just the same. Now the funny thing is, I’d had them all on this timer, in the ‘on’ position for a couple of hours and they’d never flashed once.

Eventually, I decided that it had to do with the photo eye, and that it was having trouble settling on ‘light or dark’. So today, with the outside temperatures in the mid 30’s, and a hard rain, I went back to the store, picked up a nifty old fashioned (retro) mechanical timer, and everything is working just fine tonight.

Maybe there was a reason I wasn’t putting the lights up in previous years… besides the “waiting for the landscape to fill in” excuse I was using… maybe, my subconscious remembered all of this stuff!

Naaaa… it was fun, despite the obstacles in the way… and I’m very happy with how it all looks, not too much, but festive all the same!

So what about the rest of you? Got your lights up? How’s the shopping coming along? Have I inspired you to get into the spirit yet??

Cold weather settling in here for the next 5 days or so, we had thunder here last week, if the old timers tale is true, we should see at least a little snow this week.

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Jada's Gigi said...

My, you are in the Christmas mood. :) I remember that ugly aluminum tree with the colored had one too! Very sheik, I'm sure...I know people complain about the stores decorating so early and starting Christmas almost before Thanksgiving is over, but i really love it. I look at it as one long season of joy and taking the entire month or 6wks to enjoy it is good for me. I love the decorating, the baking, the shopping, the hustle and bustle. I take time to hear a church choir or go caroling, I decorate early and enjoy the lights for several weeks. I put money in the kettle and donate canned goods or toys to some drive somewhere. Its really good for the soul to simply take the time to notice...that its Christmas! Yeaah!
We won't have snow here in GA I'm sure but its 28 degrees this morning and I'm lovin it! You know what, I need one more extension cord too....

Jada's Gigi said...

PS ....:) love the comment about God's messes and the leaves! My sentiments precisely!

Bill said...

Gigi - Yeah, I guess I am!

I have to admit though that I can't really let it all start until after Thanksgiving. The stores could start decorating in June... I'd still start winding up after Thanksgiving.

and as for the comment, Larry was a very unique guy, very practical, and could fix just about anything. He had a one of a kind take on life, I was fortunate to have met him.

Firehawk said...


I can remember some of those older lights. As to them dying mysterious deaths in storage: I think everyone's wondered about that at some point.

We haven't put up the Christmas stuff yet, but we've been getting fat and sassy on candy for weeks!

Trevor Record said...

My parents had one of those aluminum trees when I was a kid, but they threw it out about 3 years before they became popular again. Apparently, you could get a lot of money for them once they became popular. My dad was kicking himself, because usually he is a pack-rat!

Spirit Of Owl said...

We've done our decorating. It's all inside, not by choice, but next year we're hoping for a new home and... maybe... outdoor lights! :)

Sounds like you've been having plenty of fun with yours. I've a sensor on an outside light in the back, and I've turned it off completely now. It senses dark and movement, in theory. Ha. It would be fine sometimes, but other times would flit on and off like crazy.

Real trees are the best. We can't get in to one of the book cases in our front room right now, but damn it smells good, and it looks great. :D

Bill said...

Firehawk - I actually saw some replacement bulbs for the older screw in light sets the other day. I didn't think they even made them any more.

We've been overindulging too... I need to start carving out more gym time!

Trevor - I feel your Dad's pain... seems like everything comers around again, especially lately with all the 'retro' stuff being so 'in'... I think retro is more popular now, than it was then!

Spirit - Heh-heh, we had to rearrange the whole living room, like we do every year, to have the tree, and still be able ot sit in the room!!

It is fun though... the sensor lights... Mine seem to think rain, and falling leaves need light to find their way to the ground!!

Jay said...

Wow, those crazy aluminum trees sound pretty discorrific.

Bill said...

Jay - Those trees came and went, long before 'Disco' was a glimmer on the horizon...

Then again... maybe it was a kid who missed that spinning color wheel that invented that disco-mirror-ball thingy :)

Nina said...

Aluminum trees yes I have a picture of one. The big lights compared to the small ones. The can of fresh pine tree smell, LOL I remember all of those.
I hung my wreath with lights outside, but haven't done the rest. Since it is -7 outside, it is too cold to string lights. It was too cold shoveling snow.
Thanks Bill, it is nice to see someone in the Christmas spirit. Be sure to take a picture of all your lights.

No_Newz said...

You have a hint of Vacation Christmas to ya. LOL!
Me? Um... I MIGHT get my tree this weekend. :)
Lois Lane