Every year in early January, like so many other folks, I take down my exterior, multi-colored, holiday house decorations and store them away until next Christmas.
There are many emotions that come to bear at Christmas time. Above all, there is the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, the reason for the season. There is the personally joyous side, with recollections of Christmases past driven by our eternal hope that this Christmas will be better than any other. Of course, it never is. That leads some folks to dread the season. Some people get depressed. They do not have particularly good memories of childhood Christmases for a variety of reasons. Some people are weary of the increasing, marketing hype, dread its approach every year, and are relieved when its often forced frivolity is over. Obviously, non-Christians could not care less. It is not their holiday. Also, some non-practicing Christians remain relatively uninvolved. Thus, there are many sides to Christmas. There are heavy, somber sides, some rather neutral sides, and several light sides. This is a tale of the mystery of a light side.
As the Christmas season approaches, my custom, like so many other Christmas celebrants, is to string up colored electric lights along the roofline of our house. This usually occurs about two weeks prior to December 25. I do not overdo it. I do not hang up 5,000+ lights, like some folks, who have a need to impress surrounding neighbors or to be on local television. Understatement is my goal. I hang up two strings of lights. That equates to about 50 multicolored bulbs. It looks extremely beautiful, mainly because we haven’t seen such multi-colored beauty on our house since the last Christmas. The lights remain on evenings after dark until New Year’s Eve. During the course of their span as house decorations, I diligently replace any burned out bulbs, as needed. Therefore, it is assured that when the lights come down after their yearly celebrity, it is absolutely guaranteed that all the lights are functioning. Since all lights are functioning, it is a given that each of the bulbs is screwed tightly into its socket.
About two weekends after New Year’s Eve, I get out the stepladder and climb up to remove the two light strings. I carefully take both strings down so as not to damage the light bulbs in any way. I take pains not to let the jangling string of bulbs go “klunk” on the concrete porch or steps below. All landings are soft landings. I carefully place the bulbs in their now frayed boxes, in which they were purchased. I place both boxes carefully in a larger cardboard box, which, in turn, gets stored in the crawl space above the garage. Nobody has touched the lights other than me and nobody will touch them again until two weeks before Christmas next December. Then, the whole scenario of the removal of the storage box from above the garage space is replayed step-by-step in reverse until the lights are, once again, mounted to our house and re-illuminated to their yearly chorus of Oooohs and Aaaahs. All during the ensuing spring, summer, and autumn, the storage box in the garage does not get moved, jostled, or even touched. It certainly is never opened.
This is what always perplexes me. Nobody touches those strings of lights between early January and mid-December. I know the lights were functioning because I was the one who maintained them all in good functioning condition up until the moment I, myself, took the lights down. I am the one who packed the two strings and put the box away in the storage space above the garage. Yet, when I take the boxes down in mid-December, the first thing that always strikes me as odd is that 60% of the bulbs are loose in their screw fittings. How can that be? Nobody has touched them in the interim. Then, after all the bulbs are again tightened in their sockets, it is almost certain that around 10 % of the bulbs (in my case around 5) will need replacement with new bulbs. How did they burn out? They were unplugged all year. They were all functioning, when they were repacked for storage. I would almost bet that nobody changes 10 % of the other electric bulbs in their homes every year.
Okay, I admit this bizarre, little happenstance is certainly not a very serious problem for mankind. My problem is not a heavy concern at Christmas, only one of light curiosity. Between its two facets, the burnout problem is the least troublesome. Maybe Christmas lights are just inferior to other electric lights. They just don’t last as long. Yet, when I unpack the light strings every Christmas, I am always struck by the mystery of the loosened bulbs. A solution to the effect has been proposed as being the result of very high temperatures in the garage in the summer. To that I say, ”So what”. It is a true statement, but why would that contribute to a counterclockwise twisting motion on each bulb? And why don’t all the bulbs become loosened? Does it perhaps have something to do with the Coriolis Effect? That force is instrumental in causing water to go down a drain clockwise in the northern hemisphere (USA) and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere (Australia). Is the loosening of the bulbs a resistant, counter force to the Coriolis Effect?
I am sure you go through a similar storage procedure when you remove and repackage your own Christmas lights. Check out the effect for yourself (and me) next year. Your solution to this riddle will enlighten us all. Any ideas?
Copyright © 2007 by Frank Koerner