6 Ways to Avoid a Christmas Light Emergency

June 4, 2011


Why is this bride is crying? It’s because she waited until the day before her wedding to shop for lights to decorate her wedding tent and battery lights for the tables. She can’t find them at the local craft store and overnighting them is going to cost a small fortune.

She’s the victim of a Christmas Light Emergency.

Hand her a hankie.

All year long I help folks out with their lighting emergencies. Two days before prom, 4 days before a large corporate event….. December 10th….. if you haven’t made a plan for lighting you could find yourself in a bind.

6 easy ways to avoid a Christmas Light Emergency.

1. Christmas is on the 25th of December. Every year. (Really.) Start planning your Christmas display in September or beginning of October. Some specialty lights like red net lights and multi color chasing lights, for instance based on last years experience, can run out of stores all over the country by the end of October. (Who knew?!?)

Don’t wait until the bottleneck of the week before Thanksgiving – one of the busiest times in Christmas light sales of the year. Make sure to find your lights locally or order a couple of weeks early so that ground shipping will be sure to have them at your door in time to start installing them the weekend after Thanksgiving like all your neighbors. Otherwise, you may have to explain to your spouse why you are so free to watch games all weekend. Note… if you really mean to watch games all weekend and would like a quiet 4-day weekend off the ladder and in your favorite chair, order your lights at the beginning of Thanksgiving week and then blame everything on UPS.

2. Test early. Don’t wait until you are ready to put up decorations to test them. The stress of spending summer in your hot attic, the fact that your lights are bundled in a ball in a storage tote and the fact there may be children in the house can all contribute to light failure at the most inopportune time.

Take the lights out a couple of weeks in advance and test them to make sure they are all working. If you have a few missing or blown bulbs, use the replacements that came with your sets that you’ve stored safely in a properly marked storage bag … or use the worst string of lights to give it’s life to provide bulbs to the rest of your sets in order to get them all working again.

If you fail to get them all in working order, you should still have time to order lights. Emergency averted.

3. Give yourself plenty of time to plan for your party. Back out 6 weeks. Put pen to paper. Choose the colors of lights that you’d like to use for the shower, Bar Mitzvah, homecoming dance or Superbowl party that you are planning. Think about the types of lights that would best accent your big day. Line the walks with big old fashioned bulbs (these are generally never available locally), plan to hang lights under your porch or deck roof. Think about accenting trees by wrapping their trunks with mini lights or trunk wrap nets. Done in advance, you can make a plan and then find great deals and save on shipping.

4. Store your lights well so that they are ready for your next event. Purchase specially designed mini lights wrap and reel storage devices – these are readily available during the Christmas season at places like Target, Home Depot and Loews. Use them to nicely store your mini lights. You can also use the cardboard centers of wrapping paper to wind your lights around to store in flat storage containers meant to store Christmas wrapping paper. By storing your lights properly, they’ll be ready to install and will be less likely to have experienced damage while in hibernation. Thus you will have avoided an emergency.

5. Touch base with a Master Electrician in your area before ordering and installing lights. You know, the guy two doors down or your brother-in-law. Everyone knows an electrician. There is nothing worse than finding out after you’ve ordered 3000 feet of C9 bulbs and cords that 3 outlets on a 15 Amp breaker will not supply sufficient power for lighting your 60-foot tree. You’ll have to return all those lights (and pay all that shipping) and then order an alternative like LED lights that can run dozens of sets on one plug. Save yourself a headache and consult with a professional who really can save you time.

6. When you order Christmas lights, open them the day you receive them and count them to ensure that you received everything you ordered – mistakes are rare but they can happen to anyone. Also, take a little extra time to plug them in to make sure everything is A-OK. Lights can be damaged in shipping so a quick check in advance is always handy so you have time to request replacements if the problem isn’t easily solved by re-seating a dislodged bulb or replacing a fuse.

Buy the same batteries that you’ll be using at your event and test them in the battery lights that you will be using. Do this to first make sure there are no problem with the lights and second, consider timing how long your lights will last with the batteries you’ve purchased. Be sure to use new fresh batteries and purchase them at a retailer who will have good turnover. How long your lights will last depends on the batteries.

And on an unrelated note, if you are a blushing bride planning the lighting on your wedding day, consider asking your Dad to help with that project. Especially if he is the kind of guy who used to have a radio in the basement and likes to tinker with stuff. He’ll love to work on an electrical project for you while you and your mother worry about cake and flowers. Just make sure to ask him a couple months in advance.

It doesn’t take much… just a little planning and preparation to avoid most light emergencies. Sometimes, they just can’t be helped. That’s when I start to think out of the box and just make it happen.


Shellie Gardner
Aside from throwing dinner parties that feature at least two kinds of cheese dip, Shellie's passions include travel, Mid-Century Modern furnishings and finding the perfect street taco. Has been known to snort laugh champagne.

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