Christmas lights teach lesson of lighting care

December 27, 2012|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

They were bright, shiny and colorful. An integral part of the celebration of a joyous season.

Yet at my house as a kid, if my mom had been a less-balanced woman, Christmas lights might have posed a threat of bodily injury.

More than once, it occurred to me that my dad's obsessive drive to save and fix each strand might land him bound in a corner, wrapped and strung in green cords, half-lit with fat colored bulbs.

 "Wait, wait, wait, just wait," he would sputter as my mom cast burned out strings aside. "There is nothing wrong with that!"

As she would set about lighting the tree and the bushes and lamppost outside, my dad would stop whatever he was doing and, like an emergency medical worker, blast in for his annual Christmas light resuscitation. Only these strings were DOA and my mom knew it.

Still, my dad would sit on the floor, in the midst of her work area, and spread out every defunct string, removing each creaky bulb one by one and trying another in its socket.

Mom would grumble as she tripped over him, telling him to throw them away. He would presently ignore her, put them back in the attic, and the scene would play out again the next year.

I carry with me a bit of both my parents. While I get and eventually succumb to my mom's crusade to get the job done, my dad's campaign to get the most out of each string is not lost on me.

Each year as I hang strings that are not new, I think to myself, "What if this burns out right in the middle of my tree, right in the middle of the season?"

And on occasion, it has. Or I've had the "wiggle the cord just right and the whole tree is lit, wiggle the cord just wrong and only a quarter is lit" scenario.

This year, the culprit was a string on my porch, which left a glaring streak of darkness amid the draping greens. A miniature, pink, pre-lit tree in my daughter's room also went black. I tried replacing the fuses, and we removed all the ornaments and searched for a missing bulb to no avail. Ah, the sweet aggravation of Christmas vacation.

Following are thoughts on use and care of decorative lights, some from experts, some from personal experience:

 Unpack pre-used lights carefully, looking for and replacing broken bulbs along the way.

 LED lights cost less to use, as they use roughly 70 to 90 percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. On the downside, they might not appear as bright as incandescents.

 Save money by stocking up on lights for next year after this year's Christmas when they are on clearance sale.

 Sun, wind and rain take a toll on Christmas lights. Taking them down sooner will help extend their lives.

 Store lights wrapped in a ball, five times in one direction, then turn 90 degrees and repeat. Keep them in cardboard boxes rather than plastic bags, as cardboard absorbs moisture and extends light life.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

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