Some might call me “overzealous”.
Some might say I go “above and beyond”.
Others claim I don’t know the meaning of “too much”.
No matter how they phrase it, the truth remains the same.
I am addicted to Christmas lights.
A Christmas tree is not properly lit unless you can read by its light alone.
In following with the pervasive “nothing is my fault” sentiment of my generation, I blame my mother.
It’s her fault.
It was fake and older than I was.
Perhaps once it had been full. Each year we cranked our copy of Jo Stafford’s Ski Trails and squinted at the few chips of paint color remaining on the ends of the metal branches. Once assembled, giant gaps in the branches allowed you to easily see through to the other side of the tree. The lowest branches were bent, the tired wire allowing them to touch the ground and leave and even larger hole.
Unadorned it was a sad, pathetic tree. Years past retirement.
Then my mother touched it.
Multicolored lights surrounded by flowered plastic were wrapped around the inner pole, then the inside branches. More strands wrapped around the sad bottom branches and raised them to their former glory. Racing lights often iced the outermost layer, its flicker ranging from calming to seizure inducing depending on who last touched the controls.
The gaping holes transformed into showcases for the ornaments hung with careful precision – our favorites given the brightest locations.
It was magic.
The tree was finally retired when I reached high school – its final send off as a prop in a one-act play I worked on.
A new, larger, thicker tree took the place of the old.
By now, the proper way to light a tree was firmly ingrained in my soul. It didn’t matter that this tree displayed few gaps and you could barely see to the center.
Tradition had to be followed.
More lights acquired – evil, spiky ones whose covers loved to slip off and sneak beneath your bare feet.
When my mother’s carpal tunnel bothered her too much to do the tree justice, I stepped in, graciously offering to string thousands of lights onto our tree.
Anything less was unacceptable.
I had to have a tree in my college dorm room. The tiny, two foot tree showcased enough lights it glowed like a torch.
Now, even when most years we are away visiting family over Christmas, I have to have my tree at home.
Filled with lights.
My children heartily approve.
Driving home last night, my husband took a detour on purpose.
To look at Christmas lights.
“Daddy, I love the Earth,” The Tackler said from the back of the van.
“Why do you love the Earth?” my husband asked.
“Because the Earth is the only place you have Christmas lights and I love Christmas lights.”
My daughter, ecstatic with each glimpse, exclaimed and pointed each one out to her older brother.
A habit she learned from him.
I remember warm Texas nights when he would get cranky and my husband and I would walk around our neighborhood, the bright colors lighting our way as they distracted The Future Tackler from attempting escape from the stroller.
Then doing the same with Lil Diva.
First in the baby carrier.
Then in the stroller or walking beside us.
Uncertain if my eyes or theirs are more alight with joy.
I countdown to Thanksgiving each year, not for the food, but because I can finally thread my house with the magic. Without being “weird”.
Well, too weird.
My son helps me put up the tree, sorting the bright colored ends of the branches just as I did so many years before.
My tree is aging – it’s over ten years old. This year we had to replace the plastic stand.
It remains thick despite the constant shedding of needles.
It doesn’t matter.
Thick or thin, as I assemble the branches from low to high, I weave the strand of lights into each layer – from the center out – upon every level.
Until every section is properly covered.
I turn off the lights.
I open a book or I turn on my new Kindle.
And I read by the glow of the tree.