I expect there are several pathways into the seasonal spirit. Of shedding light on the ‘true meaning’ of that annual flurry of activity that seizes our culture and compels all manner of uncharacteristic acts in the otherwise private, reticent, and conservative bunch that we are. We are (briefly) possessed of urges that force us outside in the nascent days of winter — when common sense suggests we should be hunkering down in the warm, dark confines of our respective (and socially removed) burrows for a ‘long winter’s nap’.
The subtle pressure began on one of those very early December days when it’s too easy to convince ourselves that the winter may be a ‘light one’. When the temperatures climb into ‘double digits’, the sun comes out, and so do the neighbors, ladders, tie wraps, and strings, nets, icicles, spots, and increasingly, laser-projected light shows. Resurrecting (bit of a premature allusion, but. . . ) the archived pic of last year’s display, I go in search of ‘the box’. The consolidation of all things electrical and seasonal. My wife had carefully rolled, wrapped, and labelled the various configurations of lights and support paraphernalia. So step one was easily managed. I allow a brief exhale.
Schooled well in the early, less reliable days of Christmas lighting — when my father would descend from the attic and begin methodically ‘testing’ each string before threading them on the tree — I plugged and replugged our current candidates. Not bad. All strings, check. ‘Shrub nets’, check — lit but possibly best chucked in favor of less tangled matrices. Extension cords — in themselves a ‘festive’ array of greens, blacks, oranges, reds, and yellows — check. Pre-lit artificial trees, hmm. In need of a little supplemental plumping.
As any student of the Griswold’s ‘Christmas Vacation’ will know — and shrinks from the image — the easy part is stringing. The greater challenge is connecting one’s creative and far-flung outdoor display to a single electrical source. In my childhood, the ‘outdoors’ were linked to ‘power’ via one, decidedly suspect cord, threaded through the mail slot, into the front hall closet, under its mirrored door, covered by the foyer carpet and inserted into an ungrounded ‘adapter’, screwed into a little-used light socket.
A bit too smugly perhaps, hubris being a bitch, I unroll and lay out my contemporary ‘connective tissue’. The ‘light to light’ two-prongers, the multi-headed, grounded, construction graders, and all those wonderfully creative thingies that bridge one cord to another — and ultimately into one, photo-cell activated, programmable timer.
Noma, being a visionary company, has long-recognized — and traded on — the truth of necessity’s relationship to invention. The ‘kit’, including a two-outlet Y-adapter, pigtail adapter, and three-outlet heavy duty adapter, had been proactively purchased last year. With the modest upgrades in this year’s configuration, I was good — right up to the final, magical confluence where, like all the streams and rivulets feeding the mighty Mississippi and finding their way into the Gulf, that ultimate connection of display to timer is made. One power tap, 3-outlet adapter short.
Canadian Tire: the big box that manages to strike a balance amongst ample stock, good value, an extra disabled parking spot or two, attentive and helpful staff, and positioning its Christmas displays adjacent to the entrance. ‘That’s more electrical than seasonal — try aisle 49B, back corner of the store’.
I join another customer and, after a few shared circuits of said aisle, strike a bargain with him: ‘If you find one of these’, pointing to the item shrink-wrapped as part of the aforementioned ‘kit’, ‘could you grab it for me?’ In return I promised to be on the lookout for a six-foot, 14 gauge, grounded extension cord — evidently on the endangered electrical species list as well. No joy — and time to call in reinforcements. As we waited, we exchanged dark thoughts: he of cutting the desired length of cord from its much longer sib; I prying open ‘the kit’ for the only piece I needed. He allowing that his solution was likely illegal and I envisioning the dialogue at checkout as no bar code was forthcoming, thought better of either call.
Staff arrives and I indicate my quarry. ‘Should be right here’. Empty box. ‘Says there’s 23 in the store; I’ll check upstairs’. My co-shopper has retreated. I wait. My helper returns, empty-handed. ‘Things get shifted this time of year — maybe try our Christmas section.’ I re-plead my case to the ‘seasonal young man’ who nods knowingly and adopts a sympathetic, but resigned look: ‘We have them and you’re welcome to wait, but. . . ‘ On to Home Hardware, cursing my inner Scot for not having bought the $20 package to get a $5 plug.
Another swing and a miss; so desperate times call for desperate measures. A telephone consult from HH’s parking lot with my ever-resourceful neighbour: ‘The Dollar Store for two bucks; had lots’ — and I’m off again. It may have been the imposing line at check out or my sinking awareness that Dollar Stores are a cash only operation — and me with a health card and Visa in my pocket, but nary a looney to be seen — that took me to TSC and an end to the odyssey. Eight bucks . . . but who cares. We’re plugged, timed, and illuminated.
So that’s the story . . . and it’s near enough Christmas — so it qualifies. At least as much as the compulsive shopping, the electrifying of most everything in sight, the inflatable penguins and minions, the relentlessly muzak-ed big boxes (and little boutiques), the last gasp of conviviality before the ‘real winter’ descends, and the season that binds Black Friday (not to be confused with Good Friday) to Ordinary Time. But that’s another story.