Deck the Palm Trees, Fa La La La La

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If you’re like me, you probably didn’t spend the day after Thanksgiving battling the crowds hunting for Christmas bargains. Long ago, I swore an oath never to venture out on Black Friday, the euphemistic name for that new national shopping day, when every item on the planet goes on sale for about two hours. If you want to get good stuff cheap, before it’s all gone, you have to pitch a tent outside the stores before the gravy has cooled off from your turkey-day dinner. 

No, I learned my lesson many years ago when I waited in line for more than two hours to buy a Christmas present for my wife that ultimately went on sale again for the same price two weeks later. Did I feel foolish? 

Yes. Did I feel like I had wasted a perfectly good opportunity to sleep late? Absolutely. Would I ever do that again? See the oath referenced above. 

While everyone else is out bargain hunting, my day after Thanksgiving focuses on another ritual—that of putting up the Christmas decorations on the front of my house. Yes, I know, I could have put them up the day after Halloween and been right in sync with just about everyone else who likes to get a jump on the holiday season. There’s even talk of starting the holiday shopping and decorating season the day after Labor Day—skipping Columbus Day, Halloween, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving altogether. Proponents of kicking off the season in September believe it’s never too early to think about Christmas. 

I disagree. I’m a purist. I believe Christmas lights go up and shopping should begin only after Santa Claus comes down Fifth Avenue in New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and they should come down on the twelfth day after Christmas—not remain up all year, as I have seen in some of the stores. 

For me, the annual ritual begins in the garage, where I dust off the green and red plastic containers that contain the outdoor lights. After years of doing this, I’ve discovered the secret to putting up the lights easily lies in how neatly you put them away last year. I prefer rolling each strand separately around my arm in a circle, and then securing the strand in two places with string, plugging one end into the other to keep the prongs from getting bent. All I have to do when I take the lights out is unplug them, undo the two strings, and away I go. 

It gives me a chuckle that my northern friends and relatives have to replace some of their outdoor lights, or at least some of the bulbs, just about every year. I think that after making the initial purchase of Christmas lights when I moved into my Florida home some fifteen years ago, I have bought only two or three replacement strands, and that is because it was much easier to buy a new set than to try to troubleshoot a problem with an old set. I have, however, purchased additional lights and accessories to improve both the quality and quantity of the presentation at my house. While I never actually have counted the number of lights I put, I usually get enough kudos and “nice jobs” from my friends and family members to make the effort worthwhile. 

Another thing those in northern climates have to deal with that we down south don’t have to worry about, is having snow and ice covering up the lights or freezing the timers. It’s got to be expensive purchasing a timer that works at twelve degrees below zero Fahrenheit, whereas all I have to deal with is having enough lights on certain shrubs to make it look like snow, and the occasional overly aggressive rabbit or squirrel who thinks that because the wiring is green, it must be food. 

If the weather holds up, I usually can work in my short sleeves. I laugh again when my northern friends tell me how it’s too cold to put their lights up the day after Thanksgiving, and I remind them that it’s not going to get much warmer where they live between now and Christmas, so maybe they should have started after Halloween. I make it a point of having a picture taken of me in a T-shirt and shorts while I am decorating the outside of the house and sending it up to them, just as a reminder that they are freezing, and I am not. 

This year, I’m trying something a little different in my display. I’ve purchased a few solar-powered snowmen, which I plan to use to light my walkways. Each snowman has a built-in solar panel, which collects and converts sunlight into electrical power every day, while the pre-installed rechargeable batteries store the energy to power the lights at night. The built-in sensor automatically activates the light at dusk and deactivates it at dawn, so I don’t have to run out every night and turn them on or worry about hooking up a timer. 

Of course, my outdoor display of holiday spirit and light pales in comparison to some of the decorating other people do. I tip my hat to them for their creativity, imagination, and effort. All I need to do is ride down my own street to see a winter wonderland of holiday spirit, with everything ranging from life-size snowmen, elves, and reindeer to an illuminated sleigh on a rooftop and a twenty-foot tall illuminated blow-up Santa. When it comes to personal favorites, I prefer the simple incongruous beauty of palm trees wrapped in lights. 

I know there are people worldwide who take great pride in their holiday displays, investing many long hours and considerable money in decorating their homes for the holidays. To all of them I say, congratulations on a job well done and to be sure to get an early start for next Christmas—like maybe around Halloween. 

Right after Labor Day would still be a bit too early.


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