The season arrives when the lights come on

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Decorating for the holidays does nothing to deter the spirit of the season.

By Steve Doyle

The other night, as I was tucking my 5-year-old into bed, I felt a cool draft of air and, being a dutifully protective father, started feeling around to see if her window had been left open or a seal was letting in a breeze. But then the draft hit me (literally) on the head, and I realized what I was feeling was the air conditioner kicking on. In December.

We interrupt this holiday season for – what – golf season?

The weather outside hasn’t been frightful (until late Tuesday), and temperatures on Monday passed 70, not that such numbers mattered to a group of guys I saw last week playing golf at the Shelbyville Country Club on a breezy, 30-plus-degree morning or on Sunday, during a chilly rain shower.

But, no, we are within three weeks of Christmas, and all is merry if not exactly snow bright.

Actually, I am quite filled with the holiday spirit. I’ve honed my game for the past three weeks by attending multiple productions of Back to the Manger at our church, The Story – The Tour, holiday version, an outstanding performance of the uber-hard-sell-out Best Christmas Present Ever at Shelby County Community Theatre and a charming concert by the Shelby County Children’s Choir.

And all of that was accomplished by Dec. 2.

I’m beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

That’s true throughout our home, where the tree has been decorated, the Dickens Village is placed and lit and, as of Monday, Jackie, our Elf on the Shelf, had arrived to spy for Santa.

There are even some presents wrapped and under the tree – courtesy of my ever-organized espousa – and several more are stashed here and there waiting for the time for me to fumble through the paper and try to make them presentable to mail or deliver. Even the annual holiday newsletter has been drafted for publication and turned over to my editor (that being my wife, as well, who handles the photos, design and just about everything else).

About now you are calling me a misfit elf, but I try not to be.

This, you may recall, is our first Christmas on the farm, and I set out to determine how we could decorate our house on the hill and make it not look like a dark spot among the wonderfully sparkling residences we pass on the way home. The conceptualizing went something like this:

Me to my wife: Any ideas how you would like to decorate outside?

My wife: Oh, I’d like lights all up and down the columns out front and icicles across the front and the deck decorated and the barn and maybe the fence.

Me: Do you mind if we become one of those families who leave the lights up year-around and only turn them on in December?

The deck was no big deal. We had a deck at our former house, and this one is smaller, so it took only maybe three strands of icicle lights to outline it. I was looking like a hero.

Then I tackled the columns, which didn’t seem like such a big deal. We had some extra lights, and I pretty much knew how to wrap them. All I had to figure out was how to attach them to the column and connect them to one another. Oh, and how to get to the top of the 17-foot columns.

I found three or four strands – including one new box – that worked, and with a loan of my dad’s cool extension ladder, I tackled the task.

Now, our columns are modest and square and only serve as functional in early-1980s-style  architecture. So up the ladder I went with some packing tape to anchor the lights, I twisted and turned and moved up and down and slid the ladder along until I had three columns covered and realized I was a strand short. No matter, I plugged them in, and some of the strands flashed, some stayed on nicely and some didn’t shine at all, unlike how they had performed when I tested them in the garage.

An investigation found a missing bulb, which I replaced, and the dark strand illuminated. Buoyed, I was determined to try to stop the blinking. I checked for a loose bulb or one that needed replacing, and when I did, that newly lit segment went dark and stayed dark.

Those were colored lights – which I didn’t like anyway – so to the store I went to buy some boxes of white lights. Up and down the ladder I scurried, taking down old lights, rolling them up, and checking and replacing with the new lights, which for some reason didn’t stay in place as easily and also required several design adjustments, under the direction of my persnickety son.

Also, one of those strands, when installed, wouldn’t light (after it had been checked), and I was about to jerk them down, when my aide-de-son said, “Dad, they came on.” A Christmas miracle.

With the columns covered, I turned my attention to the gutters to install icicles. I had purchased an 11-foot poll to assist with this process, because the ladder wouldn’t reach that 20-foot height and, to be honest, I’m no firefighter when it comes to ladders.

The previous owners had left a few hooks on the gutter, and, first try, I got a line hooked and felt like a fisherman.

But the second – on the end of the strand of heavy icicle lights – forget it. The weight and the height just wouldn’t allow the cord to hook properly, and I toyed with it until the hook fell back into the gutter and the light string kept flapping down and battering against the ladder, which broke a few of the bulbs.

That’s when I decided that our nicely decorated home could live in Year One without front icicle lights. Undaunted, though, I turned my attention to some newly acquired snowflake lights. That seemed simple, except the uncoordinated elf who packaged them did so in a manner that didn’t allow the snowflakes to be removed from the box and extended into a string, only leaving a gnarled and twisted mess that made the typical tree-light tangle look like a 20-piece table puzzle. They remain a gnarled mess.

So if you happen to be in the neighborhood, be sure to note the nicely lit columns, the small tree, the snowman and the deer out front. Look over your shoulder as you pass to see the icicles along the deck. Make sure to smile and say that looks nice.

That’s what you’re getting this holiday at Dozen Acres Farm.

At least until I get to the barn or the fence.