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Wednesday, 10 December 2008 14:25

Come rain, snow or cold, holiday lights go up

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By David Curtis

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?

If a man is putting up Christmas lights and his wife is not there to supervise, is he still wrong?

There are no answers to the questions above, for they are philosophical in nature — not questions with good solid answers, but the type of questions that make you question life itself. Like, “Why am I out here in the cold and dark — did I say cold? — stringing lights on this bush.”

Several times this past week I saw a couple of dedicated employees from the town of Clyde faithfully stringing Christmas lights. The workers were using long poles to string the lights high in the 40-plus Bradford pear trees that run the length of Clyde’s main street. It was two men that were stringing the lights; probably veterans of many Christmas light details so no spousal supervision was needed as these two carried out the holiday ritual for which Clyde is well known.

I remember reading in the paper several years back the former mayor of Clyde, when asked what the town board has done for its residents (it must have been an election year question), said something to the effect that they were really proud of their Christmas lights. And they should be, the lights are simple white lights tastefully strung from tree to tree — not flashing obscenely, or multi colored, or surrounded by tacky inflatable Santas, reindeer or smiling Christmas trees. My daughter calls these contraptions “blowy-uppies.”

Growing up in Minnesota, I’m used to it getting dark early in the winter, around October. OK, we’re not quite that far north, but in December it is usually dark by 4:30 in the afternoon, so you would think having Christmas lights would be a popular activity to ward off seasonal depression disorder. Besides, ice fishing doesn’t really get going until after New Year’s.

I don’t recall many neighbors in my hometown that put up Christmas lights, but those that did used the only lights available — red, blue, green and yellow colored lights with large bulbs that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. As fancy as we got was to outline the front window and door, then if there was any lights extra maybe circle them a few times around whatever was growing by the front steps.

My wife likes Christmas lights, but they don’t like me. For several years when the girls were little we would put what seemed like miles of small colored lights around a fat blue spruce in the front yard. I would use a long forked stick to place the lights on the high branches. The first couple nights the light would look festive, then the Christmas light gremlins would arrive.

You know the routine; several days of Christmas light bliss and then without warning your holiday light display goes to hell in a hand basket. You plug in the lights and the top of the tree is dark, or the lights in the middle of the tree flash, then the dog chews the extension cord in half. You remove the top strand and go through 30 feet of lights bulb by bulb only to discover it was just the fuse, something your wife suggested you check first. You replace the strand and a day later another goes out.

The spruce is now too large to decorate — boy were those needles sharp — so now instead of lighting up one large tree we do several smaller evergreens, with more forgiving foliage, and several boxwood. The colored lights are also gone. We’ve upgraded to the newest technology in Christmas lighting — LED (light emitting diode) lights.

The new LED lights emit a very bright light that is whitish blue in color. The selling point of the new lights is that LEDs use one-tenth the electricity of the super bright mini-lights that they are replacing. As a comparison the new LED lights burn one-hundredth the energy that the incandescent lights of my youth. The new lights are reported to last up to 11 holiday seasons and rarely burn out.

The LEDs are more expensive than the traditional super bright lights — we got a $3 rebate for each strand of old lights we bought, so that helped out — but the savings in lowered energy costs can quickly offset the extra cost of the lights. I did notice the LED lights were shorter than the old strand of lights, so it will take a few extra strands.

Will the LEDs be more reliable than my old colored lights? I sure hope so, but I cringed when I saw there was a fuse and replacement bulbs in each of the light boxes. I may need the help of the guys from Clyde if I have any trouble.

(David Curtis teaches school in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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