Lighting the Night

Christmas lights have always been a favorite. Being a youngster putting up the lights was an anxiously awaited process. It was bothering my father until we got started. Thanksgiving weekend always being the target to look forward to. Whatever could be done to help him was fun, even in the rain. It became a way to bond with my father growing up. As time went on, the task of hanging the lights fell to me, no longer helping dad. My family allowing me to try putting up the lights. There has become peace in the process for me. Something truly enjoyable. It has always been something looked forward to each year. The joy found in creativity, making the house look different each Christmas. Mixing up the lighting design keeps everything interesting and new from year to year. The goal has been taking skills learned from my father during my early years and expanding on them. Hoping people driving around find joy, as they pass the house. When our family gathers each Christmas Eve, hopefully our decorations add something to our celebration. However, the true meaning of lighting up the holiday nights can become lost. The true purpose of hanging lights to celebrate Christmas. The birth of Christ.

It took some research to find the true purpose of our Christmas lights. Growing up, the lights were just fun. The way they lit up the dark night seemed to bring positive feelings. We would pick a night and drive through neighborhoods looking at houses. Those memories of cruising around are some of my favorite. Our car rounding a corner to meet the wonder of a well decorated home. But, the lights are on homes for much more than the awe of children in a backseat. All the lights we see during this month were originally meant to signify Christ being the light of the world. Maybe this idea brings about the joy felt while admiring these decorations. Also, part of the reason people may take time and care while putting them up. The tradition began by decorating Christmas trees with candles. Those candles were used to symbolize Christ being the light of the world. Done by Christians in their homes during early modern Germany. Through the years, the lighting tradition seems to have only grown. But, the true meaning is still based on celebrating the gift of Jesus Christ.

Cerebral palsy plays a role in the hanging of Christmas lights. Like most things, the process would be easier without my disability. Even with the challenges from CP, doing the lighting is rewarding. It’s a process relying heavily on fine motor skills. Much of preparing the light strings involves manipulating the small bulbs. While testing the light strings for placement, dead light bulbs require replacing. Often a tedious process, the light strings are plugged in and set out on a table. The bulbs not lighting up are replaced with new bulbs. Each dead bulb is unscrewed from its socket and the new bulb screwed into its place. Because cerebral palsy is most prevalent in my wrists and hands, the process becomes challenging. Trying to make things easier requires slowing the pace. Taking my time with the bulb replacement task helps take pressure off my hands. The more relaxed my hands remain, the longer they can work on the project. Some years take longer in preparation, but the patience to enjoy the exercise always remains.

The size of each Christmas light bulb plays a role in the challenge of working with them. Christmas lights are made in a few different sizes.  Strings are produced with large light bulbs, medium light bulbs, and mini lights. Smaller objects are more difficult for my hands to manipulate. So, the mini lights can’t be replaced by me, because they are simply too small for me to remove and replace. However, the medium and large bulbs can be worked with. Large bulbs being simpler to hold on to in the replacement process. Even the medium size bulbs can be manipulated, it’s just a more testing task on my hand muscles. As we work with Christmas lights in the cold, due to the time of year, another trial is presented. The cold causes cramping in my hands.  It may be the same for everyone, as the cold weather can take a toll. The situation makes my hands just that much more difficult to use. Cerebral palsy already causing aching in the hands, while weather adds to the struggle. Still, any small amount of pain seems worth enduring in the end.

My passion for Christmas lights was passed along from my father. His dad bought Christmas lights for a department store. Which, probably gave my dad the excitement for lighting the night. One of the cool parts of my grandfather’s job, was the Christmas lights he gave my father. Dad had all kinds of unique strings of lights. Many of them couldn’t be bought in stores by the time I was old enough to help him. Some of these strings were so unique they didn’t make replacement bulbs for them. So, when too many of the lights along one of the strings stopped lighting up, the string had to be thrown away. There is still a vivid memory of the year my dad had to throw away the final string from his dad. He would always say a simple prayer before plugging in a string from my grandfather, hoping enough of the bulbs worked, and the light string could be used one more year. My father had that last string ready to be placed on a rhododendron when he plugged it into an extensions cord. The results bumming us both out, as more bulbs didn’t work than did. They didn’t make the type he needed to fix the Christmas light string. My grandfather’s last string of lights was placed in the trash can. There may come a day when I do the same with the final Christmas light string he left for me.

Sometimes the joy of completing a project outweighs any struggle involved. Cerebral palsy will often add challenge to many tasks. The CP factor in performing a mission may vary with the mission itself. Much of our lives work from a matter of degrees, or on a sliding scale. The interruption of cerebral palsy on working with Christmas lights isn’t large enough to shy away from the project. Lighting my mother’s house has always been worth any obstacles my disability presents along the way. Though I will admit, some years the display has been less than ideal. Cerebral palsy has helped lead to some Grinch like years, as the lighting has suffered. But, on those years of feeling the magic, boy is it fun.

This year was one of those magical years. Putting up the lights seemed to fill that place inside. Where the thoughts become less about myself and more about the enjoyment of those around. On the good lighting years, there is a running joke in our family. How many slowdowns can be achieved? How many cars driving down mom’s street slow down and take a look at her lit house? Since I don’t live there, it’s not something I get to witness. But, it goes back to the feelings of driving around as a kid this time of year. Hoping those kids in the backseat of their parents’ car experience that same sense of wonder as they roll by my childhood home. Most years my mom will make mention of those cars taking time to enjoy our display. It always feels fulfilling to know someone might be experiencing wonder, as they travel to wherever life might be taking them.

After finishing up the final piece of lighting the house, that slow down experience came my way. Carrying things out to my car had me in the driveway and back into the house a couple times. During one trip, a car slowed to a crawl on their way down the hill. Tucked against the side of the road little voices filled the chilly night air. The car windows had been rolled down for an unobstructed view. Few sounds in the world are better than that of children enjoying wonderment together. As, they share the vision excitedly with their parents. The sounds caused me to smile, walking back inside with a full heart. Even though lighting can become tedious at times and made more challenging with cerebral palsy. The sound of those kids was a simple reminder of how valuable it can be to put in the effort.

Families will gather on Christmas Eve in homes decorated like ours. We will laugh, eat, and enjoy the company of family. Looking out windows to notice lights shining warmth into the night. Understanding this year just what those lights are meant to represent. For me, it’s a new realization. They signify Christ being the light of the world. Hopefully you have the opportunity to drive around and take in some Christmas lights, or walk through a lit park. Maybe we’ll hear the laughter and wonderment of kids enjoying the holiday season. Christmas can create unforgettable bonds, through the enjoyment of lights, large family dinners, and celebrating the birth of Christ. Wherever you are or will be, hopefully you enjoy these days of joy. Remember, “say hello to friends you know, and everyone you meet…”











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