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Keep the Christmas lights burning

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Now that Christmas has come and gone, what’s left but to take down all those decorations? It’s a task most of us dread. I suppose that’s why some people leave them up until spring. And a few never take them down.
In my family, we (“we” being my dad, myself and brothers) would have them down by Jan. 1, in accordance with the Book of the Law of my mom, who decorated the interior of our home. Many people contend it’s appropriate to keep them up until Jan. 6, Epiphany. Leaving them up beyond that date becomes borderline tacky, some say.
In any case, taking down decorations makes me wonder why I put them up anyway. Why do that? We did it, I suppose, because it had become a family tradition. Dad would get them out shortly after Thanksgiving, and I, being the youngest and smallest, would be ordered to shimmy up there or crawl over here to hang them. But my talents were limited; I was and am something of a mechanical incompetent.
You’d think, as much time as I spent helping dad put up Christmas lights, I would be a stickler for carrying on that tradition with my own household. I did for years but somewhere wandered away, and far from home, with my own brood up and gone, conveniently forgot this family ritual. Perhaps it’s because I am such a mechanical disaster; beyond the simple task of changing a light bulb, when it comes to anything electrical, I can be dangerous. When putting up the lights, I would usually have visions of Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, where he can’t get his 25,000 lights turned on and when he does, momentarily compromises the city’s electrical power.
Or, maybe the reason I dropped the tradition was that I was indelibly scarred by memories of taking those decorations down, boxing them up, and carrying them to the attic year after year. I love Christmas traditions: the decorated tree, the mistletoe, even chestnuts roasting over an open fire - but I’ve managed to avoid the aisle in the store where Christmas lights can be found.
That’s why I was so surprised when I found my son, Dave, home on his first day of Christmas break from Centre College, rummaging through the garage on Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago. “What are you doing?” I queried.
“Just getting out the nativity scene.” He was referring to the outdoor nativity scene we used to put in the front lawn. I felt a bit shabby for letting Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the camels, sheep, shepherds, and wise men lie neglected in the corner of the garage during Christmas. “And while I’m at it, I think I’ll get that wreath down too,” he continued. I felt a slight twinge of guilt; Lori, who was out of town, had mentioned the wreath to me, but her hint had fallen on my dull ears.
“Need any help?” I hesitatingly asked Dave.
“No,” he responded “I can get it, but I’ll holler at you if I do.”
He didn’t.
What’s an outdoor nativity scene without lights? A trip to the store for floodlights and a timer for them, wire to hang the wreath, and a few hours later Dave had our nativity scene looking alive. And my lone contribution was holding the ladder.
Whether Dave knew I was overwhelmed with work in my study, or whether he simply wanted to protect himself from a dad’s mechanical ineptitude, I don’t know and won’t ask. I do know he made Lori smile. “I love the lights!” she excitedly exclaimed the next day when she returned.
“That’s Dave’s gift to you,” I informed her.
Later that night, I reminded Dave how much Lori liked the lights. “But let me ask you,” I inquired, “why did you do that? Why did you go through all the trouble of putting up the nativity, the lights, the wreath?”
He paused a moment, smiled, and said, “Just carrying on an old family tradition, Dad, just carrying on an old family tradition.”
Editor’s note: Life Matters is written by David B.Whitlock, Ph.D. His email address is drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com. His website is DavidBWhitlock.com.