The holidays are over and done with now, but the warm glow lingers ... along with other vestiges of the season, a few of which can be seen outside our house. Namely, the Christmas lights.
In recent years, the winters have been pretty mild, so it wasn't much of a problem to take everything down soon after New Year's. This year, however, I may have to wait until the spring thaw to put away the lights and other decorations. Or I may just leave them up for next year - though my wife hasn't weighed in yet on that plan.
Ours is always one of the last houses on the block to display Christmas lights and other festive doodads each year. And to be honest, our meager efforts look pretty pathetic compared to those of many of our Yule-obsessed neighbors. Taken as a whole, our block is a glittery fairyland of lights and colorful adornments. People from other parts of town drive through our neighborhood every year to look at the decorations - or maybe just to swipe wreaths.
Many of the houses sport those lighted icicles, and bright lights of every hue snake and spiral around tree trunks and branches, through bushes, and along roof lines all up and down the block. Motorized reindeer and realistic Nativity scenes occupy prominent locations in many yards, and one guy has a projection system that beams a big picture of Santa Claus on his garage like some giant, jolly apparition.
For a time, we made a genuine effort to get into the overwrought holiday spirit of the neighborhood. We would decorate a big fir tree in our front yard with hundreds of white lights. I would even stand on a tall ladder and use a long aluminum pole to hang the lights in the upper branches.
Removing those lights after the holidays would frequently prove to be a bit of an ordeal. Invariably a strand or two would end up tangled high in the upper reaches of the tree, caught on a branch, a bird's nest, a three-toed sloth, or something else in there. Try as I might to pry the strand loose with the aluminum pole, oftentimes it wouldn't budge. My solution would always be to wrap my end of the strand around one hand a few times, then yank it as hard as I could.
This seemed to work pretty well, after a fashion. The balky strand would snap, and if I could keep from falling off the ladder, I'd watch in satisfaction as the other half of the strand would retreat and bury itself among the boughs, never to be seen again. One year a part of the broken strand whipped back and caught me in the face, ripping open a gash on my nose, but I managed to avoid toppling from the ladder, and when I finally opened my eyes, I could see no sign of the other end of the severed strand of lights. Success.
Over the years, I don't know how many lights have been lost in that tree - enough, probably, to light a small city for the squirrels who live in there, or create major interference for any satellite dishes in the area.
Eventually, though, the tree grew so tall that I couldn't reach the top any more, even with the ladder and pole, so I was forced to abandon the small lights. Since then, we've made do with a trio of spotlights at the base of the fir tree, which are supposed to make some kind of dramatic statement but which actually look more like a scene from The Blair Witch Project.
I also string a long line of lights - surviving strands from the fir tree - along our house's gutters, and my wife made two big wreaths to hang out front. These I illuminate with spotlights.
All the lights are plugged into a timer, which turn on at dusk and off several hours later. Often we go to bed with one of the spotlights casting weird shadows from the bushes out front on our bedroom window. The week after Christmas the timer got messed up, so the shadows remained in the window all night long, haunting us like the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Despite peer pressure from the neighbors, I can foresee a time when we don't bother with Christmas lights at all. By that time, though, maybe the squirrels living in the big fir tree will have figured out how to turn on all those lights that are still stuck in there. If they ever do, we'll have the brightest decorations on the block.
Mike Kelly is a Blade columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.