Monday, December 05, 2011

Why do Christmas lights burn out when they aren't being used and other mysteries of the holiday season

I am not a handy man. I'll get that off my less than hairy chest right up front. I would just as soon pay someone else to be handy for me, such as hang Christmas lights on my gutters. But I am not an overly wealthy man, either. So I must hang Christmas lights myself.

And I am not trying to suggest that hanging Christmas lights on your gutters is a complicated task, either. It just requires a great deal of logistical planning and manipulation of ladders and hooks and lights that I'd just as soon not engage in. I am not even sure how or why stringing lights on the outside of your house became closely associated with the birth of the baby Jesus. It's not as though the Bible said something like "Behold they wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manager beneath some pretty bitching LED icicle lights."

I'm pretty certain the Bible never uses the phrase "pretty bitching" anywhere. At least not in the King James version. Though I'm not a Bible reading man either.

I hang lights on the outside of my house not because of any religious significance or symbolism, but because my neighbors do and I have kids. Peer pressure and parenthood are two major forces in life to reckon with.

Regardless, I spent the better part of two and a half hours on Sunday on my roof stringing white, LED icicle lights along my gutters. This was my second year decorating with lights. Before that we lived in a two-story house with a roof so high off the ground there was no way I could even reach the gutters with my ladder let alone string lights. Last year I dutifully moved a step ladder along the gutter pushing on small plastic clips designed for stringing Christmas lights. It was a finger  (and mind) numbing experience. When I took the lights down last year, I left the hooks up thinking it would save me tons of time this year.


I decided to just climb up on my roof this year to save the hassle of moving the ladder six or seven times along the gutter to place the lights. So I hoisted up about five sets of lights onto the roof, plugged the first set into an outdoor outlet and began pushing the light wires onto the plastic hooks. But I discovered that a year of being out in the elements had rendered the small plastic hooks extremely brittle. So as I pushed the wire into them, 90 percent of the hooks snapped off.

So, I went back down the ladder and retrieved a box of new hooks I'd purchased but hadn't used the year before. As I'm climbing back up on the roof, I notice that the gutters are pretty full of leaves. I decided that as long as I was up there I might as well clean the gutters. So back down the ladder for gloves and a trowel. I went back on the roof and slid along the edge of my roof scooping out soggy piles of leaves and debris.

Even in real life I digress a great deal and branch off on tangents from my original tasks just as I digress here in my blog on a multitude of topics. But I digress.

With gutters clean, I got back to the lights. The first set went up fairly smoothly. Then I plugged the second set into the first one. One section of the set didn't light up.

Okay, these are the same lights that were working fine when I packed them up a year ago. They have been sitting untouched in a plastic bin in a closet in our basement until I carried them upstairs after Thanksgiving. How is it possible for any of them to burn out when they weren't being used? And what ever happened to the promise most lights have about the others staying lit when one burned out? I had a two-foot section that wasn't lighting up.

So I grab all of the remaining lights sets and climb down the ladder and sit in the hallway with a bag of spare bulbs determined to find the burned out bulb and then to test the other light sets just in case before going back on the roof. I start swapping out light bulbs one at a time (missing the old screw in type that have been replaced by these pop in mini-bulbs). When I get to the last bulb, I discover the reason it is not working. It has snapped off. I replace the bulb and all of the lights light up.

I plug in the next string and sure enough, another two-foot section doesn't work. I check all to be sure there isn't just another broken one and I find a single unattached wire dangling from the section of lights that aren't working. But not being the handy man type, I have no idea where the loose wire should be attached, so I chuck that string of lights into the garbage.

I plug in the last string of lights and once again a two-foot section of lights doesn't come on. I inspect each one and discover one that looks black around the base. I swap it with a good bulb and all of the lights come on. Maybe I am handy after all. I declare myself a genius to my three-year old son who is playing with a miniature nutcracker and a sheet of bubble wrap. He ignores me.

Before I go back to the roof, I ask my wife if she'd like me to clean the skylights while I'm up there. She hands me a squeegee and a bottle of Windex and tells me not to break my neck. I climb back up the ladder with the light sets, the squeegee and the Windex.

I clean our three skylights without tripping and falling through them. While walking from skylight to skylight, I discover what appears to be a large beef rib bone on the roof. I stare at it like one of the monkeys in the opening scenes of 2001 A Space Odyssey and then toss it into my front yard.

Finally I return to stringing lights and waving at my neighbors while silently cursing them for forcing me to dangle on my roof just so mine won't be the only non-festive house on the block. I place the last string of lights along the roof line and discover I am about two-feet short of having enough lights to reach the other side of the house. But since I am not a handy man, this is good enough for me, because something tells me if I go buy more lights I will find myself trapped in a tear in the time space continuum hanging lights forever.

I climb down the ladder, put away all my stuff and admire the handwork of a non-handy man. Later that evening, after a matinee of Happy Feet 2 and dinner at a local dive, my family huddles in front of our dark house while I fumble with the extension cord to light up the house. I finally get it into the socket and my LED icicles blaze brightly enough to land a 747.

My five year old daughter stares at the lights for about 5 seconds and then looks up in the sky and says, "Look papa, the moon!"

It was one of my proudest moments.


Helen Baggott said...

Ho, ho, ho!

I'd like to sympathise, and I suppose I do.

I plug four sets of lights in - one for each window - and that's it.

No decorations, no trees, no icicles.

I do have a gutter - but at the moment there's a small tree trying to grow in it. It would be a shame to disturb it.

Time said...


No decorations? No tree? No icicles? That's unAmerican :) Perhaps you could decorate the tree in your gutter.

Nachtigall said...

Love this! And the bitchin' lights have nothing to do with the birth of the baby Jesus.... and everything to do with ancient depressed Northern Europeans in the winter. As far as I'm concerned, we should light them up at the fall equinox and not take them down until spring. ;p