I admire the people who turn off the Christmas lights on New Year's Day. There's a brusque, practical, unsentimental quality to that decision. The holiday is done. The lumber of a new year is stacked and ready. Back to work, slackers.
I also admire the people who keep them on. They carry a message of beauty through the depths of winter, light in the darkness and all that romantic hoo-hah. One by one, the houses go dark, and this gradual decrescendo as the days lengthen seems right.
Then comes February, and the people who are still burning holes in the dark have to make a decision.
My neighbor had some nice backyard lights. I had some nice backyard lights. I turned mine off on the first of February, and the next night, their lights were off. I didn't know if this was "Oh, yes, it's time," or "Well, FINE, I guess someone decided that backyards were going to be boring now. Sorry I didn't check Nextdoor for the memo."
"The lights are off," my wife noticed, she being a wife who notices.
"Yes," I replied. "It's February. I thought we agreed. ... "
"We were going to keep them on until Valentine's Day, weren't we? Isn't that the cutoff? The red and white lights will look nice for Valentine's Day."
Oh, come on, I thought. There is not a single soul who thinks that. Even if their heart is enflamed with a bold new passion that drapes a crimson mist of lust and joy over their every waking moment, they will not see red lights on a tree and think: "Ah! The very boughs themselves speak of love!"
There are no Valentine's Day Lights, any more than that green strand will make someone think they're St. Patrick's Day lights or Arbor Day lights.
"You know what the lights do say at this point?" I said. "'They set the timers and moved to Scottsdale.' Or, if the mail is piling up, 'We didn't check the batteries in the carbon monoxide detectors.'"
"You're the one who's supposed to check the batteries," she reminded me, because if I'm going to conjure a scenario in which we were overcome by fumes, let's be clear whose fault that would be. And does Daughter know where the wills are kept?
And so, what began as an argument over turning off the lights ends with me emailing Daughter to note "the wills are in the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet in a folder marked legal," which will cause no alarm at all, of course.
Minutes later I get a worried reply: "Everything OK?"
"Yes, it's just that I want to turn the lights off, and Mom thinks we should leave them on until Valentine's Day because that doesn't sound like some tragic lovers' pact, at all."
Now I look at the lights and think: I didn't tell Daughter there's a digital copy of the will in the cloud, password-protected. Does she know the password? It's two dogs ago and some numbers. I should write it down, but that defeats the purpose. Why don't parents password-protect important documents with their kid's main password? That's a brilliant idea! I should tell everyone about it.
And so I have. I should also note that I set up a special Wi-Fi network to control the lights, and I didn't write down the password for that, so I guess they're on for good.
Sure, I could unplug them, but come July, those red and white lights will look positively patriotic.