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When the Lights Draw Us in to Create Magic



I don't know what chased me up the ladder first, but somewhere along the way, I became the house's resident Christmas lights putter-upper. Inspired at first by the novelty of climbing a ladder and adding illuminated cheer to our young family's traditions, now I tend to be more Grinchlike, figuring out how long I can push putting up lights before we hit critical mass on achieving the holiday spirit.

When that boiling point comes, and the weather is suspiciously nice, I pull out a portable speaker, find the cheesiest Christmas music playlist and, while singing out of tune to Michael Buble, I will haul out the tub of lights. Then while I remember the dynamics of safely placing our ladder, the kids roll out the lights from decaying pieces of cardboard that Pinterest suggested I should wrap each string of lights around lest they become a mysterious rat king in the tub on their own.

And each year, I'll climb on the roof and debate how we need to install a staircase and rooftop porch so we can drink coffee in the sight of the mountains we can only see from a higher view. After some wistful sighing, I get in my best house inspector mindset and walk the roof. Oh, yes, the tree is dinging the shingles a bit. We should probably get a cover for the dryer vent. Then, I get nosy.

Yes, that is a BB gun they're playing with next door. No, it doesn't seem that those neighbors are digging graves; they're just using a loud woodchipper. Yes, we need to up our flower-bed game next year. And, hey, that's where that racket went.

With curiosity tamped down, the lights themselves are not a wild affair at our house. It's about six strings of icicle lights hung on our eaves, in the same way, every year. Yet, invariably, some sort of renovation, a needed fix, or a blustery windstorm has removed some of the nails we painstakingly hammered in the first year. However, the benefit of time is that now my husband has better power tools, and we've both watched more home improvement videos.

Through our little family traditions, we've started to realize that we're slowly improving. Every mistake — the time we forgot to bring a lighter camping, the time we forgot to bring pillows for the tent, the time when we thought it'd be fun to chop down the Christmas tree like Hobbits instead of using the power saw — those are the moments that get us a bit closer to having more fun.

It was record time hanging the lights this year, even with a break to watch a World Cup match. And I was confident that if I came across a dark patch in my string of lights, I could fix it later. Especially since I found the needle-nose pliers we had been looking for all year at the bottom of my storage tub in a bag with extra lights.

It's not rocket science to fix or even create traditions. Still, sometimes those who take the creation of holiday cheer for granted forget the confidence it takes to learn and experiment, especially when you didn't come from a family that felt that holiday cheer was something you needed to do and didn't just magically happen. It takes time to learn that we are the creators of magic.

There were four dark strands when we plugged in the extension cord, but as twilight came, I got on a wobbly chair, took the pliers, and yanked and replaced. Sometimes you don't see what's broken until the darkness sets in. That's when it's time to come and find places for the new lights.

Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at cassie@mcclurepublications.com.