NOTE: This a reprint of Richard Mostyn’s Christmas story from 2005.
People think I hate Christmas lights. But that’s not really true.
I really enjoy ‘em, even those spectral deer and moose that graze in the neighbours’ lawns.
They’ll outlive flesh and blood critters, I think, morosely, as I’m pulled down the street by my dog, Timber.
No, I like the lights.
But I hate putting them up.
You could slap them up when it’s warm, but that never happens. It’s almost always minus 25, or colder, when they’re strung on the house.
Each string is tested.
Nevertheless, after having climbed that ladder, fingers numb, and affixed the things at the very limit of my reach — at a dizzying height — half a strand usually remains black when finally plugged in.
Can you feel your shoulders bunching up?
Well, this year I decided to switch to LED lights.
On CBC recently, I heard that Canadians string more than 90 million strands of Christmas lights. The electricity they draw could power a city of 100,000 for a year.
NASA astronauts can now see Christmas light-illuminated subdivisions from space.
It’s all a little scary. And irresponsible.
We’ve got to change to LEDs, I told my wife, Shona.
It will save power, and do our part to keep flesh-and-blood deer around another year or two — for our two sons.
Save a buck or two (heh, heh).
So I spent about $100 on the things. Bought the nice blue ones. Six hundred and fifty lights, give or take.
Arriving home, I read the box — the investment would save me about $5 a month over the old lights.
They’re lit for about a month. So I’ll make back the investment in 20 years.
Alright, the cash saving isn’t there.
But they’re sturdier, so there’s less chance of a bulb break resulting in a half-lit strand.
It’s good for the environment.
And the blue looks cool, kind of mystical.
So, on the coldest day of the year, the new lights went up.
Shona was ill, so I worked solo.
They went up without a hitch.
When plugged in, the house lit up like a beacon — a runway beacon.
It was impressive.
“Does it look good?” Shona asked from bed, where she was resting.
“It looks, um, fantastic. Yeah, it looks fantastic.”
“Um, yeah. Go back to sleep.”
I grabbed my son, Tom.
“How does it look?” I asked him.
“Uh, great dad. But my eyes can’t focus on them. It’s um, weird.”
I walked the dog.
“Tom hates the lights,” Shona said when I returned.
“Whaddya mean? He told me he liked them.”
“He didn’t want to hurt your feelings. They hurt his eyes. What do they look like?”
I got a glare.
“A bit like an East-European dance club. You know, a place where people have fun, let go.
“We’ll be the talk of the neighbourhood.”
Shona shuffled to the window.
“My God!” she yelled. “Our house looks like a crack house. A festive Christmas crack house.
“They’re coming down.”
“They’re fine,” I soothed. “It takes some getting used to. But once you do, it looks cool — druidic.”
Shona shuffled down the hall. I think I heard her muttering, but I can’t be sure.
Shortly thereafter my other son, Liam, came home from a friend’s house.
“Hey Liam,” I said. “How do you like the lights?”
“I don’t like them,” he said. “It looks too dark. I like the coloured lights.
“What’s for dinner?”
At the table I faced a revolt. A Christmas mutiny.
“Planes are going to think our street is a runway,” said Shona.
“They hurt my eyes,” said Tom.
“Take them down, Dad,” said Liam, his brows furrowing as he turned to Shona. “See what happens when you get sick, Mum!”
Then he brightened.
“Pass the ketchup, please.”
“But look at the way the deep blue light reflects off the neighbours’ windows,” I pleaded. “Boys, I bet if you wore a white T-shirt, it would glow.”
They didn’t buy it.
Walking Timber that night, I looked over towards the house. I could see the glow from three blocks away.
So the lights came down.
The wind was blowing and it was cold as I replaced them with the old, inefficient ones.
I have to admit, they look pretty good.
But this yarn doesn’t end there.
There was a block party last week.
“Anyone wondering what happened to the blue lights?” Shona asked the neighbours.
The room went strangely quiet. Most people looked at their feet.
Eventually, one couple cast a sideways glance at one another.
“Well, Shona, I gotta tell you,” she said.
When the lights came on, the kitchen lit up in a strange alien-blue glow, she said.
She looked across the street and her eyes bugged out.
She screamed for her husband, who thought she had injured herself and flew up the stairs, smack-dab into the strange ethereal glow.
“Oh goodness,” he said, or something close to that.
They stood, together, gazing out over a house that looked ripe for a black velvet Elvis poster.
“Looked like a festive Christmas crack house, didn’t it?” said Shona.
The neighbours nodded.
The room burst into laughter.
The next day, as I unloaded the weekly grocery run, my neighbour poked his head out his door.
“Hey, you want to pimp my ride?” he asked, laughing.
“Those lights were pretty bad, eh,” I said.
I wished him a merry Christmas, hoisted my groceries and headed inside.
“Red,” I thought. That’s the answer.
“Shona, about those lights…”