David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Christmas lights”

Christmas Lights are not for Perfectionists (2013-12-17 Daily)



David C. Hughes


I love hanging Christmas lights on my house every year.  Or, more accurately, I love having hung Christmas lights.  Like Dorothy Parker said about writing: “I hate writing, I love having written.”  Perspective is all a matter of verb tense.  But I do enjoy the result of my efforts, especially the thrill of pushing the button on the remote, a feeling that disappears the instant I discover the bulb clinging to the pinnacle of my 28-foot peak has burned out.  Yes, sometimes I think Christmas lights are not for perfectionists . . . .

I admit to being a bit perfectionistic.  Okay, okay, I’m CDO.  Like the popular T-shirt says, that’s OCD in alphabetical order.  I’m a fringe member of the grammar police, an obsessed purveyor of unsolicited verbal correction, a skill only my editing service clients and other writers appreciate.  I’m a fanatical speller with little patience for the orthographically impaired, and I consider Spellcheck to be the worst kind of enabler–when it flags one of my words I merely look down my nose at the red squiggly highlight, right click on the offending word, and add it to my dictionary.  Because it really is spelled correctly; Microsoft just got it wrong.  I’m a hopeless neat freak and pile straightener, and I embrace the beauty and systematic order of mathematics, especially geometry.  My house has a 12-pitch roof, ensuring nothing but 45- and 90-degree angles in its elevations.  I believe life should be plumb, level, and square, and that includes Christmas lights.  Especially Christmas lights.

One of my family’s favorite activities during the holiday season is to drive around the area and inspect, uh, I mean, revel in the houses lit up with Christmas lights and embellished with blow-up decorations. I love to see homes adorned with consistent patterns of red and white lights strung neatly in straight lines up gables, along gutters, and down corners.  It warms my heart to witness spectacular roof ridges illuminated in pure white lights evenly spaced for our viewing pleasure.  Those are aha moments for me, ones that, for the most part, make up for those other displays thrown up (literally) on houses by owners who obviously spit on the sacredness of order.  If Jesus had really wanted us to display random sequences of multi-colored bulbs on our houses, He would have made us all color blind.  Even my six-year-old, Hannah, understands what a pattern is.  Red-green-yellow-orange-blue-red-green-yellow-orange-blue is a pattern!  Red-green-yellow-yellow-yellow-dead-orange-purple-white-pink is not a pattern!  Pink isn’t even a Christmas color, for goodness sake!  Take that bulb out and use it at Easter time, to illuminate your blow up bunny or something.  Jeez!

When I install my lights, every C9 has to hang at a consistent angle from the gutters or shingles, and the tip of each bulb mustn’t touch the fascia board.  Each one has to be spaced exactly the same distance from the other bulb to present a consistent and pleasing line to the viewer’s eye.  Nothing saddens me more than seeing bulbs unevenly-spaced and inconsistently-angled.  If you’re not gonna do it right, don’t do it at all!  And worse than randomly-spaced lights is randomly-dead ones, those dark spots that suck all our attention away from the luminosity of the live ones, no matter how aesthetically pleasing.  Might as well plug a black hole into your Christmas cheer.  Now, I can understand finding a dead bulb after a hard day of fastening lights to your house, but allowing one to linger for longer than two or three days should be a violation of the Christmas light hangers code, punishable by a fine of up to 10,000 candy canes.

And what’s up with wrapping mature trees part-way up the trunk instead of all the way to the crest?  At night they look like ghostly figures of topped mulberry trees rising from a yuletide graveyard, glowing from the pain of their decapitation.  How much more impactful it would be to turn the canopy into a nascent star right in your very own front yard.  Now that would be a display I could stand back and applaud.  On the other hand, what’s the deal with throwing one strand of lights into a sapling like a seign net and calling it good?  It’s like Halloween toilet papering, only brighter.  Alas . . . Christmas lights are just not for perfectionists.

It normally takes me two days to hang my Christmas lights, and when I’m in the zone, I can be impatient, focused, and terse.  That’s why Mary holds the ladder: she knows she’ll be at least 20 feet away from me the whole time, and she’s on the edge of my 33,510.3 cubic foot sphere of perfection.  God help her if I drop my protractor through that electrically-charged bubble and have to climb down to retrieve it from the tangle of rose bushes.  Mary usually averts her eyes to keep from turning into a pillar of salt.

This season I caved in and finally bought the 360 feet of C9’s needed to line the driveway and front sidewalk.  I’d purchased the bulb hangers on clearance two or three years ago, but never wanted to spend the money on the 15 boxes of lights required to finish the job.  This year, however, Home Depot offered a discount toward the purchase of a new string of LED bulbs in exchange for returning an old string of incandescents.  We literally brought a bin full of old icicle lights to Home Depot and ended up buying the new boxes of multi-colored C9’s without breaking the budget.  That evening, after we got home, I installed the first set of lights using the bulb hangers as pins rather than hangers because the bulbs didn’t seat securely in the bracket.  Satisfied with the first string, I put the rest on hold until the weather shaped up enough to finish the job.  That happened to be the week of Thanksgiving.

First, Mary offered to help; she should have known better.  So with a ruler in one hand and a string of lights and hooks in the other, I traipsed across the front yard to connect the next string of bulbs to the one I’d already laid out.

“Pin each bulb exactly 16 inches from the edge of the driveway,” I instructed, holding up the ruler and tapping the number 16.  “No more, no less.”  I turned her loose while I walked back to the garage to unbox and test additional lights.  When I returned to the jobsite, I immediately noticed something was askew.  I grabbed the ruler to check my wife’s work.

“Uh, sweetie?” I said, pointing to a bulb.  “This one’s 17 inches from the edge of the driveway.”

“That’s close to 16,” she replied.

“Uh, no.  16 inches is close.  17 is not.”  She soon excused herself and I didn’t see her for the rest of the afternoon.

The day after Thanksgiving, Mary’s sister, Laura, said she’d like to spend time outside, so I solicited her help to finish lining the driveway and sidewalk. She agreed, and I showed her the ropes.  But she also left the jobsite soon after and never came back.  Five hours later, I finished stringing the lights all by myself.  And I have to say they were perfect!

As I mentioned, I love having hung my Christmas lights, but I don’t necessarily enjoy installing them as much as I enjoy the final result.  Sometimes I look at all those lights nested neatly in their bins, fresh from the attic, and wonder why I put myself through this every year instead of just joining the pagans and leaving my house dark.  I think it’s because of the magic.  I remember how excited I was watching Dad brave the brutal December weather in upstate New York as he strung the three or four strands of beat-up, scratched multi-colored bulbs around our picture window.  Despite the work, I owe that to Hannah.  I love her squeal of delight when we light up the house for the first time after I snap the last bulb in place.  I love the pure magic when she counts to three and I secretly press the ON button, how she believes she’s the one illuminating the lights simply by counting.  I love driving around the neighborhoods to look at Christmas displays and to witness how many people embrace the season with such enthusiasm; their efforts are a gift not for themselves but for others, strangers they’ll never meet but have blessed nonetheless.

Despite my perfectionism, Christmas is all about magic, blessing others, and making memories.  And because Santa, the ultimate perfectionist, never skips a house filled with folks whose hearts believe in the Ultimate Christmas Light: Jesus.  Even if the third bulb from the left on the tallest gable is burned out.




Copyright © 2013, David C. Hughes


It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2013-12-12 Daily)

And now for something totally different to help get you into that Christmassy spirit!  Enjoy!  Oh, by the way, that’s my mom, circa Christmas 1981.  Sorry, Mom, I couldn’t resist . . . .




David C. Hughes


Okay, I cheated.  But, hey, like the good husband I am, I admitted it to Mary later that evening: “Hannah and I listened to Christmas music in the car today,” I confessed.  Mary put her hands on her hips and just stared at me with those wonderfully blue, soul-piercing eyes.  As the silence grew palpable, I responded to the uncomfortable urge to fill in the conversational dead space: “I know how you feel about listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving,” I stammered, “but 98.7 FM is playing it already.”

“Hmm,” she finally said, shaking her head. “Whatever happened to Thanksgiving?”  It’s her lament every year, her own personal hell.  But you married me, I have to remind her.  You signed up for this!

Yes, I’m weak.  And it’s bad enough I snuck a toke off the pre-Thanksgiving Christmas music pipe, but I should’ve known better than to have demonstrated such irresponsibility in front of my six-year-old daughter.  In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I admit I felt a bit of a thrill dragging Hannah down the road of Christmas music perdition with me.  But seriously, what’s next?  Setting up the Christmas tree the day after Halloween?  Hanging my stocking above the fireplace on Labor Day?  Inviting Santa to deliver our Elf on the Shelf on July 4th?

Retailers don’t help, either, with their Christmas tree displays in full bloom planted in the middle of the store in October.  They have to realize that playing Christmas music in their establishments the day after Halloween is like setting a bottle of Crown Royal on the welcome table at an AA convention–even if I don’t partake, the thought has been planted and must, eventually, be satisfied.  And once “Here Comes Santa Claus” or “The Little Drummer Boy” gets into my head, well . . . . there’s only one thing that can drive out those demons in the chord of C7: the clandestine fix.

A few weeks after Halloween this year, as I drove Hannah home from gymnastics, I quietly searched Sirius XM to see if they’d pre-empted Channel 4 and Channel 17 with “Holiday Traditions” and “Holly” yet.  “What wrong with the radio, Daddy?” Hannah’s sweet, innocent voice trilled in my ears.

“Uh, well, uh . . .” It was no use; I could no more lie to my daughter than I could to my wife.  “I’m seeing if I can get Christmas music on the radio,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t say anything to Mary about catching me red-fingered.  It’s hard to be discreet, though, when the “Absolutely Mindy Show” on Kids Place Live is suddenly interrupted with the beeps, grunts, and gurgles of digital station tuning.  Striking out with the radio, I ended up getting my pre-Thanksgiving Christmas fix from another source: Charles M. Schulz.

“Let’s watch ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ tonight,” I suggested to Hannah as I finished cooking dinner later that evening.  Of course she agreed, so I set up the card table in front of the couch, dished out the plates heaping with food, and dropped the DVD into the player.  We ate and watched, then after I cleaned off the table and brought Hannah her bowl of ice cream, I fingered the remote.  “How about watching ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’” I said.


“Sure, why not.”  I jumped up, swapped DVDs, and the 1965 classic popped onto the 46” flat screen in full living color.  I was in heaven . . . . until the next morning.

“Mom, we watched Charlie Brown Christmas last night,” Hannah said while eating her breakfast.  Like Adam standing under the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, I just smiled sheepishly and pointed the finger of blame at Hannah.

“Uh huh,” Mary grunted, looking straight at me.  “Somehow I don’t believe you.”  I shrugged and found interest in the swirls of oatmeal and almond milk in my bowl.

Since Christmas music before Turkey Day is verboten in the Hughes household, I usually sate my incipient Christmas-season anticipation by dragging the boxes of Christmas lights out of the attic a week or two before Thanksgiving.  I used to hang them after Thanksgiving, but I got tired of freezing my butt off perched 20 feet above the rose bushes on an aluminum extension ladder with 25 mile-an-hour winds whipping out of the north, trying to coax my purple fingers to snap another bulb clip under a rock-hard shingle.

Usually the weekend before Thanksgiving in North Texas is warm enough to allow accomplishment of this yearly ritual, with temperatures ranging from the 60’s to the 80’s, hence the reason I get away with starting early; I’m a weenie when it comes to cold weather, and Mary, the Proverbs 31 wife that she is, makes concessions for her high-Q husband.  But this year, to my extreme joy, the National Weather Service predicted winter weather the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Elated, I made the executive decision to start hanging my Christmas lights two weeks before Thanksgiving!  Woo hoo!  So with temperatures near 90 degrees, I actually got sunburned scaling my monstrous 32-foot extension ladder with handfuls of C9s and plastic clips.  ‘Tis the season to be jolly!

The freezing rain came and went, and I managed to snap the rest of the lights onto the shingles and gutters before the family arrived to celebrate Thanksgiving with us, and for some reason I accidentally left the lights lit up Thanksgiving night.  Along with three of the other four houses on our cul de sac.  Oops.

As I mentioned, Mary laments the passing of Thanksgiving into the premature hustle and bustle of Christmas; she calls Turkey Day the “Forgotten Holiday.”  And it’s so true.  Just take one look at our holiday decoration bins and you’ll see exactly what I mean: five orange and black totes are filled to the brim with costumes, wigs, foam tombstones, plastic skeletons, and illuminated skulls; eighteen green and red bins are swollen with Christmas lights, plastic trees, garland, festive tableware, wreaths, ornaments, and the Advent calendar; and a lone orange tote is half-filled with a pumpkin centerpiece, a table runner, a small basket of scarecrows, and the painted pumpkin we hang on the front door that says “Give Thanks.”  The rest of the bin is filled with stale air and Mary’s tears.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy Thanksgiving, especially feasting on turkey and homemade sweet potato pie, filling my coffee cup with another round of cab sauv, and watching the Cowboys actually win.  But the best thing of all?  On Black Friday it’s finally legal for me to tune into the Christmas Station and listen to the Boss belt out his rendition of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”  The bells they are a-ringin’, and Clarence Clemons is a-singin’!

So when it comes right down to it, why do I like this time of year so much?  It’s the warm memories of Christmases I experienced when I was a child, and having the privilege and the responsibility to pass on the magic–and the meaning–of the season to Hannah.  Hearing Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, and Frank Sinatra usher in the season always takes me back to a simpler time with memories straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  Memories of our cardboard fireplace with its tin foil flames lit with an orange light bulb, and real Christmas trees harvested from the field behind the house.  Memories of Dad waiting until the week before Christmas to set up our tree, and how he would hang the multi-colored strand of lights around the picture window in foot-deep snow and temperatures well below freezing.  Memories of my brothers and I laying metal tinsel across the O-gauge railroad tracks to watch the sparks, and memories of waiting for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to arrive on one of the four channels we got on our massive console TV.

It’s the memories of being so excited we couldn’t go to sleep on Christmas Eve, but always managing to do it somehow.  And memories of how Dad would make us wait until he rolled out of bed, went to the bathroom, and had his cup of hot tea with milk and sugar before we could even think about opening a present.  We sat there like dogs with Milkbones on our noses, drooling, until Dad took his place in the burnt orange arm chair, and Mom distributed presents with one hand and filmed the festivities with her Super 8 camera in the other.  Memories of the old Norelco ad where a Claymation Santa rode an electric razor over snow-covered hills, and the endless Ronco commercials blaring at us after we got cable installed and could tune in WPIX Channel 11 from New York City.  Memories of white spaghetti, red wine, and board games like Yahtzee and Aggravation on Christmas Eve, and ham and sweet potatoes on Christmas day after mass.  And Christmas music playing all day on the tinny white plastic AM radio perched on top of the refrigerator.  It’s a scene straight from A Christmas Story, but it was our story too, and I loved every moment of it.  Still do.

Yes, I’m weak.  Weak for fond Christmas memories, sharing the magic with my wife and daughter, driving around the countryside to look at Christmas lights, and listening to Christmas music on the radio.  But can you blame me?  After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!




Copyright © 2013, David C. Hughes

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