Once they are untangled, we plug them in, one by one. They don't all light. Ever. That is a rule about Christmas lights. We get a little more wine and set about checking for empty sockets and misfunctioning bulbs. This day and age, all light sets say "If one or more bulbs burn out, others will stay lit." That is a lie. After replacing some bulbs, tightening others, and shaking the string (gently), the lights come on. Success!
The next job is to hang them. Maybe they go on a tree, or along the eaves, or above the kitchen cabinets, or along a railing. Wherever their destination, the task is usually not a piece of cake. It involves ladders, wire ties, masking tape, a good sense of balance, and greenery--artificial or otherwise. Regardless, once the lights are hung and we plug them in, voila! One section does not light. Or maybe more than one. Right in the middle. Always. Sometimes a little jiggling will remedy that situation, but then the middle of a another string goes out. More wine.
Strings of lights have become so ubiquitous that they aren't just for Christmas any more. So even if you are of a different religious persuasion, or none, you have still had this experience.
I bought three new strings of lights for our 9 1/2 foot tree two years ago. This year, only one string lit up completely before they went on the tree. The other two only lit halfway.
I decided I didn't care--one whole string and two halves would be enough. I strung the whole string back and forth, top to bottom. I added the other strings and wadded up the unlit sections, tucking them back into the center of the tree where they can't be seen. It wasn't the most even lighting job but looked okay. I proceeded to hang fifty-five years of collected ornaments--more if you count the silver-painted pine cone from my grandmother's tree--and finished off with real tinsel. The aluminum kind that I carefully save from year to year, not that new plastic kind. We both approved the final look and sat down to enjoy our evening and the tree.
Two hours later, the top third of the tree went dark. That was the first string that earlier in the day lit completely before it went on the tree. The string that went on before the other two, all of the ornaments, and the tinsel. The next day, I bought another string to fill in, took the tinsel and ornaments off that part of the tree, carefully wove the new lights through the branches, and replaced the decorations. However, I am not foolish enough to believe that all of the working lights will continue to light until after New Year's.
What's the point?
This summer we made plans for the fall that included several camping trips and a grandson's wedding in Mexico. Then my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. We jiggled those plans and replaced components, but finally had to change our expectations and cancel each plan, one by one. The treatment is going well and we are hopeful for next year. That is what is important in this moment.
We are aware that we are not alone; we know several others with serious glitches in their strings of lights. Some more serious than ours. What we are all left with is the need to enjoy and appreciate the lights when they are on.
Another lesson from the lights is that even though the tree is beautiful, there are those hidden wads of lights gone dark. Just as many of our friends and neighbors are dealing with dark spots that may not be visible in the flashily lit tree. This is the parable of the lights: Hold your loved ones close and be aware of lights gone dark.