A Christmas tradition with extension cords

December 21, 2003|by LYN WIDMER

A battered cardboard box signals the beginning of the holidays for our family. My husband Ron delivers the box from the attic. Inside are 35 electric candles, enough for each window in our farmhouse. Ron's mother, Virginia, began the tradition 45 years ago. Her directions as to which light goes in what window are written in indelible ink on the bottom of each base:

"Window over bureau in mother's dining room"

The directions are frozen in time: 1959. At that time my husband, his brother Todd, their parents (Leo and Virginia) and grandparents (George and Ida) all lived together. The farmhouse functioned as a duplex with two separate kitchens, two living rooms and two dining rooms.

My husband is the only one in our family who can supervise the placement of the lights. Ron knows "window over bureau in mother's bedroom" refers to a room we now use for storage.


Ron can also keep the genealogy of the candles straight. Since his mother Virginia wrote the directions, "mother" actually refers to Virginia's mother who is Ron's grandmother and the children's' great-grandmother.

"My little bedroom"

Placing each light at the correct location is very important because extension cords are attached based on the distance to the nearest wall plug. Thus, a light intended for "my little bedroom" will not have a cord long enough to reach the window in "mother's guest room."

This is why my husband approaches the tradition of the candles with great seriousness and solemnity. Like Father Christmas he carefully pulls each light from the oversized cardboard box. Ron then hands them to our teenage children with directions as to appropriate placement.

I provide the historical and genealogical context. I tell the kids the candles re-create a time when three generations lived under one roof. I wax eloquent about how wonderful it is to have a Christmas tradition that is so directly and tangibly linked to their grandparents and great-grand parents. "Just think," I muse, reverently fingering the candle in my hands, "Your grandmother put this on the windowsill of her little bedroom 40 years ago and now you are doing the same."

This last comment is lost on Teenage Daughter. "Mother," she orders while struggling to pry the candle from my grip, "Let go of the candle so we can get this over with."

"Mother's dining room over sewing machine"

This candle is my personal favorite. Several years ago I found dozens of home-made aprons tucked away in the corner of an old cedar chest. Mother Ida made them all and because of this candle I knew where she created them: the sewing machine in her dining room.

There is an apron for every occasion. At Christmas I wrap myself in one made of organza and lace that features elaborate felt poinsettias. I may be serving store bought appetizers and packaged pastries, but that apron screams "home made."

We are not very successful in lighting all 25 candles each night during the holiday season. Teenage Son and Teenage Daughter have yet to embrace the tradition, explaining "Its your turn to plug them in!!" "No, it isn't. I did it last night. It's YOUR turn."

That's OK. It would be nice if people driving along our road could enjoy the lights but that is not the important part of our family tradition.

The real joy of the candles comes from reading the directions on the bottom of each and remembering a time when three generations shared the holidays together.

Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

The Herald-Mail Articles