Christmas Shopping, 1996. It was Black Friday in Frederick, Maryland. I was pretty tired from the all-night pre-sale camp-out (back when shopping did NOT occur ANYWHERE before 6 a.m.) and my 5K walk-a-thon I had been doing to get gifts for the family. I had already purchased a new artificial tree and was well-stocked with lights and assorted ornaments I had purchased last year at the after-Christmas 50% off sale the year before (no one likes shopping for accessories after Christmas, but they’re nothing but elated when it all comes back around). All I could think about was grabbing a Philly Steak & Cheese at Jerry’s Subs before heading home to hide the gifts from children too young to even know that shopping bags contained toys. I glanced at the endcap near the never-ending line and that’s where I saw it, a package of Musical Christmas lights.
I thought to myself that that was something we’d never had and figured it was worth purchasing. Little did I know, something so simple would eventually become one of the most treasured and significant symbols of Christmas at the Davis house.
Christmas, 2000. It was our first Christmas in Columbus, OH and my kids were reminding me not to forget the music lights or else the tree would be “all wrong”. Their favorite lights; mine as well – a strand of lights that flickered on and off in sync with the 10 Christmas tunes that played endlessly (complete with volume adjustment and “on/off” switch). Each light rested in a removable red, plastic bell-shaped casing that either lit simultaneously or “every other bulb”, flashing note-for-note with the electronic tunes. The simplest of designs, now an absolute must in preparation for every Christmas celebration in the Davis house. They were especially beautiful when they, in addition to the other colored tree lights were the only items lighting the otherwise dark living room. The warm glow was a symbol of colorful serenity, sweet harmony and quiet love, upon which we would reflect as we watched it for hours in the many evenings.
And January 1st? Every year, the evening of the first day, I/we would sit and enjoy the lights for one final time, thinking of all the fun we had on Christmas and how sad we were that the season was officially over. Begrudgingly, we’d shut the tree off, one final time before dissembling, sectioning/bundling branches, packing bulbs and wrapping lights up for another 11 months before starting anew. A beautiful cycle. As the years progressed we always laughed about how we should notify the store to tell them their lights were fully functional 20+ years later. They’d actually outlasted the on-glowing bulbs that we had to replace every 3-5 years. It’s as if they were MEANT to be a part of us. Our family. Our Christmas.
…and then it happened, or… …didn’t happen.
Christmas, 2018. I plugged in each string of lights, as I do each year, prior to connecting and circling around the tree. As always, I saved the best for last, the Davis Family Christmas Lights.
Nothing. No lights, no music.
I unplugged and replugged them in the power strip. Still nothing. I figured it was my cue to do a QC inspection on each bulb, but then I remembered that I’d lost lights in the past and that one malfunctioning bulb did not affect the set. I unplugged it and checked a different set of lights. They worked. I plugged the headlining act back in, one last time…
I knew they wouldn’t last forever, but somehow I’d convinced myself that they would someday die in the manner an elderly loved one would pass, fading slowly and with family around its deathbed. No, not this time. Somehow, sometime during the 11-month break, grandpa died in his sleep.
I sat there in shock, only to find find this emotion swiftly replaced with disturbing pain and sadness. It was that serious. A part of our tradition, one of the most important elements, was gone, truly gone. I broke the news to my family and everyone made the same confused expression of disbelief before admitting how sad it was. We continued stringing the lights in silence, attempting to wrap our minds around the fact that it was going to be a little different that year.
And it was.
[For the record, photographing my Christmas music lights for this article was more saddening than I thought. You never know just how the subtlest things have the largest effects.]
December, 2019. We just finished putting up the lights, two weeks behind schedule, and for some reason I thought I’d give it a try, putting our old favorites up. No, I hadn’t thrown them away. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Same results. In the distance, I’m sure someone was playing Jazz singer Nancy Wilson’s “Face It Girl, It’s Over”.
So the tree is up and as always, we’ll wait until Christmas Eve to surround the tree with previously hidden gifts, even though the boys are all over 18 and for the first time in years, together for the holidays. We’ll even play our R&B/Soul customized Christmas playlist on Christmas morning, beginning with Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and The Temptations’ “Silent Night” as I explained in the blog posts The Beauty Of Christmas Traditions, Part 1 and Part 2.
But there won’t be any electronic tunes. I haven’t replaced the lights. it won’t be the same. And to be honest, something different would probably have an unpleasantly depressing effect. It’s probably best to enjoy it all in silent reflection so as to not distract from the real reason we celebrate Christmas: The birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the gift of life, good health, a place to live, food on the table, clothes on our back and this beautiful family.
Maybe I’ll throw the lights away next year, after I’ve plugged them in again.
In the meantime, Happy Holidays and never forget why we celebrate. Be safe, be kind, be charitable and be of good cheer; and know that I love you, always…