It’s a Christmas… tradition

From the Halifax Daily News, December 25, 1995

What I really need to know this Christmas is who does this thing with the lights every year? And how? And why?

These are not the only seasonal imponderables, of course. There is the perennial question of the real meaning, not of Christmas itself, but of the phrase, “Some Assembly Required.” And the deep philosophical conundrum of how to return the gift you bought last night to the same store that is now advertising the item in question in your morning newspaper for half the price you paid? And who claim they will not knowingly be undersold, or where the lowest price is the law, or . . . Not to forget the puzzle of how it is possible to have a Boxing Day sale at the beginning of December? Or who really pays those no-payments-’til-April deals? And, of course, there is the always-in-season querulous query – how in the hell do you actually propose to pay for all this good cheer when all is said and done?

Those are all important questions, of course but, at this very moment, gulping rum and eggnog while I sit on my living room floor trapped in a tangle of green wires and piles of miniature light bulbs that will only finally be discovered by bare feet or by some visiting toddler whose mother is a lawyer and will almost certainly sue, the only question to which I really want an answer is this: Who does this thing with the lights every year?

You know the lights I mean. The little, tiny, clear, candle-like lights some people think look nice on a tree.

Some people charmingly call them fairy lights. I often use an adjective that begins with “f” to describe them myself. It is not “fairy.”

The problem is this. They come on a string of anywhere from 35 to 50 lights. If just one of those 50 lights stops working, the entire string shuts down. Every last fairy one of them.

So . . . which one to replace?

And if you replace each one in turn, how can you be sure that the one you’re replacing it with is, in fact, itself a working bulb? Or that there is only one light among the 50 that is not working?

There is, I’m certain, a mathematical formula for figuring out the combinations and permutations of possible light changes you could make before you finally find the one that is causing the problem. I’m sure there is. And I’ll get to it one day. I will. But not now.

I sometimes wonder, at moments like these, how my parents ever did it? They used to wait until after we’d gone to bed on Christmas Eve before they’d even bring the well-hidden Christmas tree into the house. Then they would decorate it, put presents under it and even assemble the some-assembly-required toys before bedtime so we could wake up Christmas morning to the first-seen magic of a decorated, lighted tree.

Did their lights always work?

Mine don’t.

Oh, they did – last January when we, oh-so-carefully took them off the tree string by string and packed them delicately on the top of the Christmas decorations box and then stored the whole thing in an out-of-the-way corner of the house where they would not/could not be disturbed.

But someone somehow always manages to sneak into that box and mess with those lights.


I have deliberately replaced every light from a non-working string with lights from the one remaining working string – only to discover that now, neither string works.

But there is hope. The stores are still open. If I hurry, I can do what I did last year. And the year before. Buy a new string of lights. And hide the others where no one will see. Which is to say with last year’s non-lighting lights. I just have to leave a little space in that corner of the closet to put this year’s lights next year.

It’s become a Christmas tradition.

And isn’t that what the season’s all about?