To a degree, I wish that Christmas lights weren’t so associated with Christmas, since a lot of people like myself, use them all the time. Nowadays, any holiday that has a different color scheme from Christmas will have strand lights available: Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc. I picked up a nifty strand of all purple ones when all the Halloween stuff was up in, what, August?

Maybe it’s just because I live in New Orleans and moved here right from college, where Christmas lights are year round decoration. Italian restaurants use them, as do many bookstores and bars in the Quarter, and I’ve always liked them. They have that way of softening things at night, creating a warm glow where normally there would only be neon or spotlights to advertise establishments. Maybe it’s also because I’m 24 and still like having a night light, something low enough to guide me to the bathroom and keep the monsters away. Now that I’ve moved my mattress directly to the floor, they now have one less place to hide.

All my friends use them all year round, usually the all white ones. They let you see shadows in kind, shallow corners. They cast light upward and outwards but don’t get in the way of other things. You can drape them over anything or pin them up in swirls, or even stuff them in a jar, like one of my friends does. They are like the memories of friends in that way, the memory of light not completely snuffed out.

How many lights do I need for my Christmas tree?

If you're a young family or decorating your first apartment for Christmas you might not know how many lights you'll need to put in that first Christmas Tree.

3' (0.91m) Tree - 50 to 100 lights
4' (1.22m) Tree - 100 to 150 lights
5' (1.52m) Tree - 150 to 200 lights
6' (1.83m) Tree - 200 to 300 lights

More than 6' (1.83m) - 300 to 350 lights + 50 lights for each extra foot (0.3m)

Less than 3' (0.91m) - 15 to 50 lights or owner's discretion

Before you put lights on your larger tree, you should run a green/earth tone extension cord up the trunk of the tree. This gives you a central point for the light strands to come together. This will also help in Christmas light troubleshooting and replacing fuses. Wrap lights around each branch leaving a bulb at the tip of each branch. Try to make slack for those ornaments you get to plug into the lights to make them work like the Hallmark Star Trek ornaments.

Thanks stupot for reminding me about everyone with extra-short Christmas trees!

This was inspired by the Christmas lights safety instructions and having an apartment of my own to decorate this Christmas.

Christmas lights, I have noticed recently, recall Christmas past... When I was very small, going to my best friend’s house involved negotiating a long dark road which had no street lights. At Christmas time, the house at the end of this street, visible all the way along it, used to decorate an evergreen shrub with Christmas lights. They weren’t like lights you get now. They were real glass bulbs, in the shapes of Chinese lanterns, balls, cones and so on. The monsters that inhabited that dark street retreated from their glow.

There was something exceptional about walking up that street during December. I looked forward to the people who lived in the house decorating their tree, and, at same time, wondered what made them do it. The family would not be able to see the lights from inside it: they must then have decorated it only for the people outside - for me. The Christmas of my youth, then, is intimately bound up with an idea of the warmth of human nature.

I have often thought of going back to the house and saying thank you - but, and this is the odd thing, it is twenty years ago since their lights kept me safe. For all I know, it could be the same family who live in the house - knowing the town, it probably is. But the friend has moved on; I haven’t heard from him in twelve years. I now have no reason to travel the road.

And so I don’t know if the tree is still decorated every year. I could look, I suppose. I don’t want to: if the Chinese lanterns are still there, then all is right with the world.

If they’re not there, then the monsters probably still are.

Christmas lights are a string of light bulbs used for decoration, usually around Christmas time but occasionally on other holidays like Halloween (using different colors and bulb shapes), although they can be found all year round in some places. They are commonly called Christmas lights because they are most often used as Christmas decorations. They are available in many colors, achieved by painting the bulbs or using colored glass, and in many shapes.

Christmas lights are most traditionally wrapped around the branches of a Christmas tree, but can also be found draped over fireplace mantles, encircling windows, draped over bushes, and even outlining an entire house. Lights intended for use on a Christmas tree have green cords to blend in with the green tree, ensuring the attention is on the light and not the cord. Net lights are arranged in a grid pattern to easily drape over and remove from bushes.

Lights come in indoor and outdoor versions. The outdoor lights are slightly more expensive but are weather resistant and approved for outdoor use by Underwriters Laboratories. Many upper middle class neighborhoods in the United States have friendly and informal competitions each year to see who can put up the most elaborate and best looking displays. These can get quite impressive and has spawned a market for professional decorators. It can also snarl traffic at night due to all the people driving very slowly around the neighborhood to see the displays.

Pagan Roots and History

Many customs and symbols in Christianity, especially Catholicism, were borrowed from the pagan religions of Northern Europe. As Christianity spread northward, they found it easier to absorb the pagan peoples into their religion if they brought bits of their old religion along with them. Thus the Christmas tree is evergreen as a symbol of everlasting life, because it does not go dormant in the winter months. Likewise Christmas lights were borrowed as a symbol of the returning sun as the days were getting longer after the solstice. Christmas was even put where it is on the calendar to replace the pagan ceremonies which took place around that time. The symbolism was just tweaked a little to adapt it.

For this reason, Christians decorate evergreen trees with lights to celebrate the day of Christ's birth, which most certainly did not occur on December 25th. Until the early 1900s, the trees were decorated with the only light source available: candles.

This of course posed a bit of a fire hazard. Not long after the Edison light bulb was invented, candles were beginning to be replaced by much safer electric lights. By the end of World War II, this transition was for all practical purposes complete. The 1970s saw another transition, from parallel wiring to series wiring.

Parallel vs. Series wiring

When I was young and learning the basics of how electricity works in grade school, I used to wonder why Christmas lights were wired in series. Most everyone is familiar with the old "one light goes out, they all go out" problem which results from this. Before shunts (explained below) were added to the lights, people had to go through the whole string to try to find the one burned out bulb and replace it. Wouldn't it be easier to wire it all up in parallel so only the burned out bulb would go out?

    Parallel wiring

 |     |     |     |
 ~     O     O     O
 |     |     |     |

It turns out that before the 70s, they were indeed usually hooked up in parallel. The problem with this method was that each light bulb received 120 volts of electricity from the electrical outlet. That's a lot of juice for a little bulb. These lights burned very hotly and consumed a lot of power, and were a bit of a fire and safety hazard because of that, not to mention expensive to keep lit. But at least the rest kept burning when one went out.

         Series wiring

  |                         |
  ~                         O
  |                         |

In the 70s Christmas lights switched over to a series wiring method. Modern incandescent Christmas lights are very small, low wattage bulbs that run on only 2.5 Volts. This is much safer because the bulbs consume much less power each and therefore do not burn as hotly. They only feel warm to the touch. This is why strings of bulbs come in multiples of fifty (120V ÷ 2.5V/bulb = 48 bulbs, and rounding up makes little difference). Additional strings of 50 are added in parallel to each other, which is why most strings have three wires instead of only two.

Unfortunately this means that when one light bulb burns out, the electrical circuit is broken and the whole string of 50 goes out, making it difficult to find out which one caused the problem.

Blinking Lights

This did, however, lead to an interesting innovation. By installing a bimetalic strip in just one light on the string, the whole set of 50 can be made to blink on and off. As the electrical current powers the bulb, the bimetalic strip heats up. Because the two sides (bimetalic — two different metals) of the strip have different coefficients of thermal expansion, the strip bends as it heats up until it loses contact with the circuit, shutting off the whole string. As it cools, it bends back to make the connection again, and the process repeats to cause the set to blink. Fancier modern sets have solid state microchips and transistors instead, which can cause the set to blink in interesting patterns instead of a simple on/off.

Finding the Bad Bulb

There are a few different ways to find the bad bulb in the string. Most people pull out and replace each bulb, starting from one end and working their way up the string, until the lights come on again. They then throw away the last bulb they replaced. However, if the bulb they are using to do the replacements is burned out itself, or if there are two burned out bulbs in the string, this will only lead to a great deal of frustration and wasted time.

Another method is to test the bulbs. A 9 volt battery can be used for this by touching the wires at the base of the bulb to the terminals of the battery, conveniently spaced just about right for this purpose. However the 9 volt battery provides almost four times more than the bulb's rated voltage so don't leave it hooked up too long or you could shorten the bulb's lifespan.

A third method is by using a non-contact voltage tester wand. These are small, battery powered devices shaped like a thick marker which detect electric fields, which are generated by the presence of alternating current voltage. Since the voltage stops at the burned out bulb, the tester can be used to find the burned out bulb by passing it up along the string until it stops detecting voltage. The last bulb it passed successfully is the one burned out. These testers are actually the same kind used by electricians to test if circuits are live before working on them, just less rugged and packaged in Christmas colors.

Shunt Bulbs

These methods are time consuming and it's often easier to throw away the $5 string of lights and buy a new one. The Christmas light industry has heard your cries of despair, however, and has provided a better solution. Most miniature light bulbs these days come with a device called a shunt in parallel with the filament. The shunt is a high resistance connection which does not interfere with the operation of the filament because very little current passes through the high resistance of the shunt compared with the low resistance of the filament.

When the filament burns out, all the current passes through the shunt instead. This burns the high-resistance coating off the shunt and turns it into a good conductor of electricity, which maintains the circuit and keeps the rest of the string lit. From there all you have to do is pull out the one dead bulb and replace it. However, since the shunt is in the bulb, it only works while the bulb is plugged in, and the string will still fail if the bulb is merely loose.

Fused Plug

It should be mentioned though that all of these methods will fail if the problem is that the fuse in the plug at the electrical outlet has blown. Since the string of lights is so small and low power, this fuse helps protect them from the mighty 120 VAC power source in your wall. Otherwise a short-circuit somewhere in the line could set the tree on fire, significantly reducing one's holiday merriment. While the fused plug is a ubiquitous device in UK electrical cords, outside of Christmas lights they are almost unheard of in the US.

The plug will also often have an extension outlet built-in so you can plug another set of lights into that set to reduce the number of outlets needed.


Because the string of lights is just a series of electrical plugs with bulbs in them, manufacturers have begun selling small, low power toys that plug into them. These can do any of a wide number of things, such as move with very small motors, or play a recorded message, or flash LEDs on and off. Everything from animated reindeer to Star Trek spaceships that flash lights and play holiday messages from Leonard Nimoy is available.

Of course, simpler ornaments that merely fit around the bulb so that they glow are also common. These are popular for making Halloween theme lights with glowing witches and pumpkins. Christmas themes include icicles, snowmen, and, looking back to the olden days, artificial candles.

Other Types

Although incandescent bulbs dominate the market because they're so cheap, a few other technologies are available.

LEDs last longer and use less power, but most require a transformer and rectifier to operate at low DC voltage rather than run in series.

Neon bulbs run at full wall voltage so they are wired in parallel, and are much safer than incandescents wired this way.

Artificial trees sometimes come with fiber optic lines permanently installed in the branches. These can be made to change color with a rotating disc filter over the light source in the base of the tree.

Last night I saw the northern lights through a veil of clouds.

It seemed the glow of Christmas past, where smiled loved ones lost forever,

Shining dimly as joylight behind the snow,

Fading like dreams before the din of daylife,

So that I cannot prove to another they walked our earth,

But my dreamworld, retold.

This is how the aurora is dear to me, soullight,

mine alone.

There were three surprises. The first was that the time machine worked. The second was that after traveling backward in time, absolutely nothing was as they'd expected.

It wasn't that the history books were wrong - rather - it was as if all of history had been recorded and retold in the present day by people in the process of having root canals. Things were so off-kilter it led Roger to the "alterable past" theory. Perhaps their Inequality Magnifier had not only taken advantage of the big loophole in Bell's theorem, but rather, had magnified uncertainty along with the probability of superluminal transmission.

"Maybe you can only go to the past if it's not your past," Roger said to Linda. "And when you try to go to your past, you go to an improbable version."

"Exactly which part of the past is not our past?" Linda asked.

He was not a physicist, and though he considered himself a scientist, logic was not his strongest virtue. "Maybe the butterfly flapping its wings in Katmandu on December 24th doesn't cause anything to happen to us on December 25th in San Jose. Not enough time has gone by. So Katmandu isn't actually in our past and we could go backward to Katmandu just yesterday and see it as it actually is. Rather than going back to it two hundred years ago, in which case, all things in Katmandu have had the opportunity to propagate and mingle and effect all parts of San Jose, so if we went there, it would have to be different to prevent paradoxes."

"Why is everyone always so in knots about paradoxes?"

"I'm not concerned about paradoxes," Roger said, absentmindedly jiggling the key chain upon which the Inequality Magnifier dangled along with the keys to their house in Rochester, his Jeep Cherokee and her Taurus wagon.

She gave him one of her, "You could have fooled me," looks and picked an apple out of a street vendor's basket and bit into it. They walked away without paying. The street vendor chased them but Roger moved them two weeks ahead and where was previously a patch of unmolested cobblestone was now a pile of manure. She said, "How about we go to a time that doesn't stink?"

Roger scratched his head. "I'm not sure when that would be," he said, and began developing his theory of localized odors. He would hypothesize that eras in society could be marked by the prevalence of various airborne particulates to which the population would be so inured as to be unaware of their existence. Time travelers would find all epochs festering in odor but their own.

They went to New York City in June of 1859 and discovered that few people cared about the battle raging between the states. Instead, the population seemed preoccupied by learning to ride bicycles and constructing brick buildings with the aid of professional scryers who were quite adept at locating underground aquifers and previously unmarked graveyards using nothing more than forked sticks and bent iron rods.

After a few hours in town Roger came to the conclusion that telepathy was in widespread use because people communicated with a marked economy of words and no hand signals were evident. It turned out that people were so adept at reading tiny movements each other's smooth muscles they had to wear excessively concealing clothing to avoid broadcasting their thoughts to the public at large. This also was the origin of the game of poker.

"Thank ye Gods for the blessed invention of the telephone," one dapper New Yorker told Linda thirty years later. "I'd never have won a single hand of five-card stud and I deduce from your bosom that you would like to be led through the Argentine waltz."

Linda demurred, making a mental note to seek him out in Funk and Wagnall's as soon as they got to the 1950's.

"What did that guy want?" Roger asked her, returning from a shop across Fifth Avenue holding a small globe of something wrapped in gauze that dripped onto his shoes.

"A tango partner," she said.


"I think in 1859 that's a pretty significant proposition."

"Asking a woman to dance is tantamount to asking her to bed?"

"You must work very hard to be so stupid," she said. She turned her back to him and started up the street toward the park.

"We're not staying. My pudding is melting," Roger said. He had intended to bring them only further toward winter, where the fall sun wouldn't dissolve his confection but wound up overshooting by thirty-eight years.

Horses drew carriages and trolleys down Fifth avenue. The skies were clear but the light from the sun appeared much bluer than it did in 2006. It made it seem that downtown New York was coated in ice.

"You're not planning to eat that, are you?" Linda asked him of his pudding. "It's laden with who-knows-what fauna and flora that we've long since eradicated. You're liable to get polio or smallpox."

Roger pursed his lips, then grit his teeth. Then he set the pudding down in front of a horse, who sniffed at it until it was pulled into an alley by German Shepherd-sized animal resembling a rat.

People strolled past them, ignoring them for the most part but occasionally staring. Even though it was cool everyone and everything smelled of dried sweat and horse manure. The stench bothered Linda but not Roger, which agitated Linda even further.

There was a kid hawking newspapers on the corner of Fifth and Park Avenue South. Glancing quickly, an article caught her eye. She stole one from him and scurried back to Roger who moved them three hours ahead before the kid could catch them.

"Look at this," she said. Roger saw that William McKinley had been inaugurated. A dinner was being held to honor the surviving veterans of the Civil War. Former Union soldiers need only attend.

He said, "So?"

She pressed a finger into the paper, forgetting that newspapers could not yet divine the intent of the reader through capacitive coupling of motive thought through the fingertips. Roger grabbed the paper from her and brought it closer to his face.

The article stated that the mayor of Hazlet, New Jersey had finished consulting with aeronauts about the future of the town as the aerial gateway to the New Jersey shoreline.

Roger pursed his lips. "Could it be the Wright Brothers already invented the airplane?"

"They're still just kids," Linda said.

"And they haven't invented Baby Einstein yet."

"Einstein is still a baby."

A woman approached them and said something in a dialect neither of them recognized as English. When she spoke slowly, Linda realized she was asking if they had come from the airships.

"Airships?" Roger said slowly, as if speaking a foreign language which happened to use all the same words but required different ordering and inflection.

The woman made a sweeping motion with her hand and pointed upward. Several large metallic structures floated above the buildings. Linda had seen them before but they hadn't registered in her mind as being out of place. She'd presumed they were zeppelins , but then she realized they were decades too early for rigid aircraft. Numerous lights and devices rotated underneath the flying things. She saw what seemed to be windows or simply openings in the bottom of the craft. They reminded Linda of stateroom balconies on expensive cruise ships. People were looking down at them from above. Linda waved. One airship passenger waved back and held aloft a martini glass.

"That's interesting," Roger said, gazing upward.

While they were trying to invent enough sign language to converse visually with the people on the airship, they heard a voice on Fifth Avenue directed at them saying, "Do you think they speak? Maybe they're deaf."

First they noticed the smell. The odor of rotting fish drifted over the all pervasive horse stench.

They were both terrified when they saw the Tyrannosaurus. Linda clutched Roger's arm. Roger tried to calculate an escape, but rapidly came to the conclusion there was no means of escape from a 20' tall palentological specimen with teeth the size of pine saplings.

It was on a leash. A boy too small to be an adequate meal for the beast had one end of the leather lead wrapped around his wrist. The other end was tied to a hand knitted collar on the dinosaur.

"I must have one," said the dinosaur, taking a step toward Linda.

The boy said something in that same thick accent that made him impossible for Roger and Linda to understand, and the dinosaur giggled. It said, "May I stroke them?"

The Tyrannosaurus ran a scaly claw over Linda and said, "It's a Martian. I must have it. Can I?" The boy said something unintelligible, yanked at the leash, and the dinosaur followed complaining that all his friends had Martians and how come he never got to have anything fun and the boy didn't love him. When he stamped his foot the horses whinnied, but for the most part nobody took note of the thunder lizard as he was lead into Central Park.

Linda brushed herself where the lizard had touched, first grumbling. Then she couldn't stop herself from crying. She said, "You should have done something."

"We weren't eaten," Roger said. He kissed her on the cheek and watched the boy and his pet sauntering into the park. "Why do you think paleontology is so wrong in our time? And what the hell are those flying things?"

"Take me home," Linda said. "I'm hungry. I'm tired of being accosted by people and...talking things. And it stinks everywhere. Give me that."

She wrested the keychain from his hand, pressed the button, and took them home. Linda took a deep breath of her living room air. Though the ambient aroma was greatly improved, she could still smell traces of 19th century New York. She lifted her elbow and sniffed under her arm.

"I'm going to have to burn these clothes. Then I'm making lunch."

"Hey, you want to try something?"

"Didn't we just try something? I'm done for a while," Linda said. She went into the bedroom and started changing clothes. Roger came in.

"How about this - we go to Christmas past. We relive our childhoods."

"Not until I've had a bath," she said, but Roger wasn't listening.

He fiddled with the time machine. "Hey, I have an idea - totally off the wall. We set the time machine for the present."

"That's stupid." She started putting on the fresh clothes she selected.

"Why? Have you ever done it?"

"I don't have to, I'm always in the present," she said, and finished pulling on a sweater. She sat down on the bed. "Love, what are you looking for?"

Roger sat on the edge of the bed. He shrugged.

Linda said, "How about lunch? Then we can go back to Christmas in 1985 and play with Teddy Ruxpin." Roger fiddled with the Inequality Magnifier controls.

"It goes from the past to the future, so it has to cross through now," he said, hovering his thumb over the button. "What do you think will happen?"

"Please, don't."

"So you really are afraid of paradoxes."

"I'm not afraid. I want you to be happy."

"The thing about happy," Roger said, "we have such a hard time recognizing it."

Their eyes locked.

Linda blurted that she loved him. She marveled at how her soul had come to love before thought drifted away and simply was.

As the room evaporated to white Roger vowed he loved her, and then all he could see was the blue in her eyes and loved those with all his being. And then he forgot they were her eyes.

It was Christmas night, 2014. I had spent much of December recovering from a very serious illness connected to lupus, which I had been diagnosed with earlier in the year after twelve days in the hospital followed by weeks of seeing a steady stream of doctors. On Christmas night I decided I wanted to take a long walk. I wanted to walk through the surrounding neighborhoods to look at the Christmas lights, and at the people as they settled in after the holiday. There were houses with many cars parked in front of them, where family was gathering along with friends in celebration.

I didn't feel like I had much to celebrate. I had spent most of the year being sick. My brain had stopped working properly, a victim of lupus attacking my central nervous system, my joints were incredibly sore, swollen and aching, my hair had almost completely fallen out, and I was almost constantly dizzy. After spending the day with members of my own family, all I wanted was to walk around and look at the lights. It was an opportunity to be alone. It was an opportunity to find some peace.

With Christmas lights surrounding me, I sat down at the edge of a pond, exhausted and defeated.

"Either kill me or restore me. This somewhere in the middle crap isn't going to fly," I shouted out to the air around me, hoping my angels would hear.

In my dreams that night a desert sprawled out before me, reminiscent of my death experience more than two decades earlier. Behind me I felt a presence and then felt that presence's wings spread out around me.

You have always chosen your own path. At one time you believed in yourself and in your purpose. She who gave you faith gave you everything you needed to follow the path you were meant to travel. Then came the crash and you struggled with your faith. You went back to the old ways. You surrounded yourself with shallow, mean spirited people who served only themselves and saw you as a means to an end. You struggled to stay on the path, but you kept wandering into the weeds, fighting dragons you had no chance of taking to a draw. Slowly, you gave up the fight, so slowly you did not even realize you were giving up. You invented missions where there was no mission and threw yourself into battles of your own creation. As time went on you stopped understanding your own words and your own past. You began to lose hope as well as faith and you flailed against the constant. It was only a matter of time before your mind and your body joined your soul in a slow death. Whether you are restored or not is your choice. That is your battle now. And you can only win it by finding what you lost and take up the path once again.

You are the champion of the individual soul. It is the path you were meant to take because it is the one you are most suited for. Focus on what you do that completes you, not on what tears you apart. Find yourself and you will find the path.

After that night, the Christmas lights began to come down. Slowly the neighborhood became as it was before the decorating season bloomed. After that night I began to fight. I began to search for the things that were lost and forgotten. I looked for the things assumed to be gone and brought them back into the fold.

Six months later I was called a medical miracle. I won't take that for granted and allow myself to believe that I am indestructible. There have been too many lessons learned as a result of that exercise in vanity.

When everything is aligned as it once was, I will return to the land I learned to call home. The path will become visible once again after I clear away the ruins and the destruction. I have been nearly destroyed so often that by now it should feel commonplace. Often, it does.

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