The Spirit of Christmas Upon Us

Last weekend it was the start of December, and now, one mere week later, it’s the middle. I don’t know how that happens, but I’m running out of shopping days, and prep days, and holidaze.

Last weekend was Gunnison’s annual Night of Lights, the official kick-off to our festive season. People wander our blocked-off Main Street, and at 6:15 start ambling down to our arts center, where at 6:30 Santa lights up the giant town tree. As usual, I was looking north instead of south when this happened, so the season clearly doesn’t need me to get underway.

None of us from Pat’s went down to be close to the tree because we were hosting Santa Paws, a fund-raiser for the Gunnison Valley Animal Welfare League (GVAWL). We used to do this with my late friend Bob as a Santa who got his picture taken with people’s pets (including once a pet rock), but we always spent more on advertising than we brought in, so we let the event lapse.

But — and I know, I said I wasn’t going to join any more boards — I got myself on the GVAWL board this year, and then I volunteered Kara’s husband Geoff for the board as well, so Kara wanted to revive the event. In this day and age of social media, we didn’t spend any money on advertising, so while we didn’t make big money, we generated some funds for companion animals waiting for the fur-ever homes. And we discovered Geoff makes a very authentic Santa.

With Night of Lights, Santa Paws and root canals gone awry, I didn’t get much into the spirit of the season at home. Sure, I watched the Grinch, both the Boris Karloff version and the new-ish movie by Illumination (the Minions animators). And my holidays were nearly made complete with the Rankin-Bass production of The Year Without a Santa Claus. I have yet to come across their Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but I did stream, early one morning, A Christmas Carol, the George C. Scott version. It’s amazing, really, the sway that story continues to hold.

Lynn, sick with something that has not left her throat for well over a month now, did put lights on our Norfolk pine, which has often served as our Christmas tree, even back when it was two feet tall. Now it’s closing in on nine.

Even though I carefully organized and packed away holiday stuff in January in what I thought would be easy-to-find fashion, we couldn’t seem to come up with the lights she’d strung on the deck railing last year. We bought some new ones from Walmart, because it was closer than Ace, and while the bulbs come in five or six colors up close, all you can see from a distance is red. I guess that’s what happens when the strand is mostly pink, red, orange and yellow, with not enough blue and green to make up for it.

Today, though, finally thinking about turning my attention to the company holiday party that Lynn and I will host in a week — one week! — I found all of last year’s deck lights buried under party supplies. Since I had just last the night before lamented to myself the bareness of our front entry, given the fiery red glow of the deck, I left party planning in a giant heap all over Lynn’s living room and started stringing up lights.

Problem: last year one of the strings went out, halfway. And by halfway I mean about half the strand about halfway through the lighting season. Me being me, I was sure — even as I knew this would never really happen — that sometime between last January and this December, I would sit before the television some night, patiently testing bulb after bulb to see which one was responsible.

Pressing my under-utilized Little Giant ladder — the one that I wanted for so long, the one I don’t often use because it’s so darn heavy, even though it’s very sturdy — into service, I wrapped the strings that did light around the first two of our three front walkway posts. I ran out of the LED lights midway through the middle post, so I went with incandescents that may or may not be rated for outdoors. (And since we’re having still a rather dry but colder winter, it may be that none of them are really rated for outdoors.)

But that still left me short, and there was one perfectly serviceable string that couldn’t be that hard to fix, right? Hello, Google.

I found some very helpful, pleasant man on Youtube who, in very efficient manner, ran through the basic mechanics of Christmas lighting, showing me how one wire — the ground — bypasses the bulb, which somehow is what allows the second half of the strand to light even as the first half goes dark. The secret to finding the problem bulb quickly, he said, is a non-contact voltage reader, a tool I should be able to find wherever Christmas lights are sold.

Well, he turns out to be wrong about that part, as I learned to my wallet’s dismay. Knowing how I am about projects dropped mid-stride — ask me how my bookshelves are doing, still in the garage awaiting three more coats of stain and poly three months after the first coat — I headed straightaway for Walmart (because Ace would close about the time I got there).

I found no non-contact voltage reader, nor even the Christmas light tool Ace was trying to sell me on Youtube. I did find four utterly adorable gift bags sold as a set, and I bought another string of lights that I thought were $11 but were really $18. But they turn out to have 16 different “modes.”

Then I headed across the highway to Tractor Supply, where a well-intentioned clerk thought there might be one by the batteries, which were directly behind her. However, the entire store was directly behind her, and I never did locate batteries, but I did find lighting supplies and a regular voltage meter that isn’t the same thing at all. I also found a gift that I feel quite confident will be the hit of the company party, even if nothing else is ready for the guests.

Returning home in the dark, I could see a distinct difference between the LEDs on Post One and the string on the middle post. To these I added the new Walmart string, which turns out to only have red, blue and green lights and looks a bit Fourth of Julyish. Two problems with this string: it wasn’t long enough, and it dead-ends, with no way to plug another string in.

So I hooked up the straggler strand from last year, the one I could fix, I’m sure, if only I could find a non-contact voltage meter, up at the plug-in box by the front door, ran the unlit portion along the underside of the roof, and wrapped the lit portion down our third and final post.

There. Christmas is saved. The party may be a complete disaster, particularly if Tuesday’s root canal goes as badly as the one last month, but at least everyone will be able to admire festive lights as they arrive. And someone is going to get an absolutely amazing gift. Maybe not as amazing as a non-contact voltage reader, but pretty darn close.

A Christmas gift for you all: most of the Western Not State Music Department’s holiday gala (sadly, not the steel drum band that entertained in the lobby). Pro tip: the sound is much better if you use headphones or ear buds.

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