The Cast: Erich (fuse flipper), Myself (plug puller), Richard (wire wrecker), Rudolf (the wooden reindeer).
Traditions begin for different reasons. Some reasons are obvious, some are not. That being said, let me tell you about an event that came to be known as Christmas Lighting. Christmas Lighting was a silly tradition that started with a simple unplugging of a tiny lightbulb.
As a youth, I agreed with the popular take on older folks. What I am referring to is how older folks were depicted as grumpy and angry at they younger folks for their pranks. And how the older folks just didn’t understand the kids. However, as I’ve gotten older (and am on the other side of the coin) I now better undersand why the older folks were grumpy and why they thought the younger kids were stupid. It’s because after the prank is pulled, the kids are gone and he older folk is left behind to fix/repair/undo what had been done. I now understand. That takes time, and I shouldn’t have to redo what I had already done.
That being said, let me tell you more about Christmas Lighting…
When the season begins and snow falls, Christmas lights come out. And at nighttime when the dark falls, Erich and I would come out. The two of us would wander and just play around in all that magical white fluffy snow. And when a couple of ridiculous teens, with nothing better to do, wander around at night with lots of colorful, bright, twinkling lights all around them well, they come up with stupid ideas. Our idea was simple: Turn off the lights.
I don’t remember how it started—or who’s idea it was—but it went something like this, “Ya’ know, if just one of those bulbs goes out…” “The whole strand goes out.”
And so, every so often, as we would pass by a home festooned with ornamental adornments we would get mischievous. We would approach under the cover of darkness (because it was dark, and that’s why the lights were on), and then find a lightbulb on a handy strand of Christmas lights… and pull it out. Out would go the lights. And off we would go—like the Grinch—onto the next house.
At first, we were a little obvious about our work. When you glance at a strand you can see the missing bulb quickly and easily. Simple to replace. As such, we felt an improvement of our skills were required. Make it look like all the bulbs were there but short-circuit just one of them. “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, Richard.” (at least, I think it was Richard who came up with that particular idea, he was involved in a few of these holiday hijinks)
We would gently twist the bulb inside its housing so that the thin wires would twist and snap, leaving a broken connection and a seemingly perfect strand of bulbs. This worked.
Now, we didn’t do this often, just once in a while. And we didn’t do it to lots of houses, just a few. Additionally, we even evolved into a nicer method of mischief. Instead of breaking the bulb, or just throwing it off into the snow, we would just pull out the bulb and leave it snug enough to remain within the strand, but loose enough that the strand wouldn’t work. The idea was that this would allow the light’s owners to quickly pursue their non-illuminated illuminations during the day and find the weakest link. We were trying to be thoughtful. (There are lots of flaws in this logic I know, I’m not justifying, I’m just explaining)
Somewhere along this pranks development two milestones occurred: The first was the name. That went something like this, “Do you wanna do that thing we did when we took out the lightbulbs?” “Yeah!” “We should come up with a name for that.” “Yeah.” “What should we call it? That Thing Where We Take Out the Lightbulbs?” “What about, Christmas Lighting?” “Yeah!”
It wasn’t until years later, and engaged in our holiday hooliganism on some late night that one of us asked, “Why do we call this Christmas Lighting? We’re taking the lightbulbs out. Shouldn’t we call it something like Christmas Un-Lighting?” “Good point. But Christmas Lighting sounds better.” “True.” So we did think about it proper like. Give us some credit.
The second thing that developed into a Christmas Lighting staple was Rudolf’s nose. Rudolf, as many of you may know, is a reindeer with a very shiny nose. Our Rudolf, however, wasn’t a live reindeer, but he did have a very shiny nose.
Our Rudolf was made out of wooden logs. It had a thick log for a body, and a shorter thick log for the head. Also, it had thick sticks for its legs and neck. I also think it had actual antlers for antlers, but I don’t recall for certain—living in a community where hunting was commonplace, they may have been actual antlers, I just can’t be certain. Anyway, this Rudolf also had a lightbulb constructed into its head. I don’t know how the guy who built it did it. The bulb was screwed directly into the log, and there were no wires to be seen anywhere. It was cheesy, but cool. So, all we had to do was unscrew the lightbulb and the light would be out.
The first time we did this we thought about throwing it into the snow. But, back in the day—before LED lights were commonplace and purple colored bulbs were everywhere, Christmas lights were all filament based with thin wires, with the occasional screw in type. Like the kind you would find in nightlights. So, like I was saying, Erich and I had considered just tossing the red nose-bulb into the nearby snow—and we did. But after a little thought, we realized that was cruel. Partially because the bulb was unique (red bulbs weren’t readily found like they are now), and we thought that maybe the owner might step on it and break it. That would mean they would have to go and buy a new one, which then puts us back back to the first problem. So we picked it up and put it back into the head. Then unscrewed it, so it looked like it was out.
Near, very near (like within one foot of Rodulf), there was a large pine tree that the owner of Rudolf had decorated with Christmas lights. Occasionally, in addition to the unplugging of the odd light bulb, I would suripticisly unplug the tree as well—either at the base of the house, or at the base of the pine tree, or both. Erich got real good at taking care of the little light bulbs on the tree so that it looked like it was still plugged (but still keeping it unplugged). Once in a while, Erich would slip in a blinker bulb (you know, those little red-tipped bulbs that when hot enough, trip and turn off the strand). We even found a way to make them look like regular bulbs—camouflage!
If we combined the blinker with the unplugging, bonus! Because, the owner of the strand would plug it in and the lights would work. A few minutes later however… The blinker kicks in and the strand goes all wonky on them. This usually occurred after the owner had already gone back inside and had taken off all their cold weather gear, so then they would have to get all dressed up again and head back outside to figure out the bulb issue.
We loved that little wooden Rudolf. And that tree. There were times—especially when we felt bad about what we had done over the years—when we would just walk up, unscrew Rduolf’s nose-bulb and walk away. For old times sake.
And so, just as easy as it is to flip a switch and turn on a strand of Christmas lights, the tradition of Christmas Lighting had begun. And just as easy as it is to subtly, and slowly unscrew the nose of a wooden reindeer, so too did the tradition end.