Mason County News
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Outdoors Outpost
You Light Up My Life
Wednesday, December 26, 2012 • Posted December 26, 2012

Christmas, as we all know, is a very stressful time of year for most Americans. According to a stastic I plan to make up before I finish this sentence, the divorce rate increases ten percent or more during this festive season of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Most psychologists will tell you that’s because of the stress of the season, but then, most psychologists probably hated their mothers, so there’s no use listening to them.

No, the real reason for my invented divorce stat is Christmas lights. Well, OK, I guess if you reason that the Christmas lights cause the stress, then yeah, I guess stress is the problem. My point is that there would be a lot less stress if there were no such thing as Christmas lights. There would also be far fewer house fires, which also contribute to stress.

Christmas lights, by the way, are a relatively new addition to Christmas, as relatives go. Sometime during the XVIIth century folks in Germany started putting candles on their Christmas trees to make them more attractive, and the idea caught on. The practice spread to Eastern Europe, and eventually some reckless decorator decided to light the candles, and the tree caught fire. Which should not have been a big surprise, really, but we’re talking about Eastern Europeans, here, so who knows?

According to ancient accounts, the idea of Christmas tree candles was a huge hit, although they usually came all tangled up in a box, and if one candle went out they all went out. Blinking candles and chase candles were introduced sometime during the XVRth century, but it was so much trouble to constantly light, blow out, and relight the candles that those were discontinued pretty quick.

After Nikola Tesla invented electricity, which was stolen by Thomas Edison in about 18VX, people started using strings of electric lights to decorate Christmas trees. This was a vast improvement over candles, because the bulbs cost a lot more and actually created more heat, thereby getting Christmas tree fires started much sooner. Up until the late 1960s, when I was, personally, a child, the standard practice was to plug in the lights for no more than sixty seconds per hour, or else risk incinerating Christmas. Those were the good old days.

Christmas lights have come a long way since then. Literally. Most of them come from China now. And I’m proud to report that new innovations in Christmas light manufacturing processes have resulted in vast improvements, so that Christmas lights are now pretangled at the factory for your holiday convenience. Extra tiny little bulbs are also included in every box of lights, to give Dad hope that, if he perseveres and tries switching out every light in the string with each of the replacement bulbs, he could possibly manage to get all the lights burning at once, maybe sometime in March. This has never been successfully documented, but hope springs eternal.

At some point in history, or even before, a woman somewhere decided it would be nice to string lights, not only on the Christmas tree, but on the outside of the house. We know this was a woman’s idea, because most men would rather undergo a root canal via backhoe than hang Christmas lights. But, as Si Robertson says, “Hey, if it makes Mama happy, you gotta do it.” Never argue with Si.

Personally, I seldom hang Christmas lights. I have, in the past, offered to help, but I did such a poor job my wife ran me off, saying it would be easier to do it herself than have to fix the messes I made. The plan, so far, has worked splendidly.

Once, however, while Randy Young was serving as McCulloch County Judge, he asked me to help him hang some lights on the courthouse in Brady. Randy happens to be one of those individuals who is quite comfortable with heights as long as they are located on the ground. I kind of like heights, because, well, just because.

So I agreed to hang some Christmas lights on a windmill and tankhouse this year for a couple who live in Mason. There was an ulterior motive behind that job, though. Until I was nine years old I lived across the street from the house where the windmill and tankhouse are located, and I tried constantly to sneak over and climb the windmill. But Bonnie and Amos Underwood lived there, and Bonnie was ever vigilant. Every time I started up the windmill she would run out and shout at me to get down. She was afraid I would fall, of course, but I vowed that one day I would climb that mill. And I finally did. 42 years later.

The lights turned out pretty nice, although they were a lot more trouble to hang than I expected. But then, if you expect Christmas lights to be easy, you’re in for a stressful holiday season.

My advice – use candles . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who owns his own Zippo. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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