burned out Christmas lights

Our Fancy Aluminum Tree 

I grew up with a silver aluminum tree. There will be those who respond to that fact with pity. There will be others for whom an indescribable nostalgia sweeps through from head to toe.

Ours was a fancy tree with a turning color wheel at its base. I thought it to be the most beautiful thing in all the world. The turning light threw the tree into sparkling green, red, yellow, and he

two children with a vintage aluminum Christmas tree

Sylvia with her older brother in front of a vintage aluminum tree

avenly blue. I felt so sorry for those who had to go cut down a real one. I imagined them like the scraggly ones from our pasture that popped up now and then, anemic and brown, not much more than a bush with colored balls weighing down sparse branches.  

Every night after supper, I parked myself under our fancy trees’ silver stick branches. I watched the display of colors change into sparkling reflections. Loving every dancing hue, I perpetually rearranged ornaments for optimum shine. It was balanced and pristine. 

Then I grew up and the other side of the family into which I married…ahem…seemed to think such an artificial facsimile beneath the splendor of the organic feel and smell of the real thing. And so began my initiation into the real deal. 

We married and got a cut tree that first year. It might have been then when I first realized that lights are basically evil. One dark sinner smote the entire bunch. And, there is always one. I’m pretty sure that while lights are safely packed inside red totes after the season, they plot, devise, and stealthily move to infect their entire strand. 

Every year we take those carefully wound ropes out and plug them in and the swath down the middle is gone. Dead. Dark. Not only is the connective Christmas spirit dampened, so is the marital bliss. I’m pretty sure that while lights are safely packed inside red totes after the season, they plot, devise, and stealthily move to infect their entire strand. Share on X

I figure when the fancy fad, way back in the day, of the aluminum tree became a thing, my dad, not one who exuded patience, probably jumped on it. The magic wheel underneath gave plenty of sparkle and twinkle without hassle of Christmas lights to untangle and replace. 

one small stray can wreck a whole lot of others. lights are basically evil.

photo by Philip Schroeder

Need I even go to the abundant parallels where the tree lights connect with spiritual life?  Because they are there. How we shine brighter in community, how one small stray can wreck a whole lot of others, and the way we need to be plugged in to the right source. Light in the darkness. Good versus evil. Illustrations abound. After all, did not Jesus Himself claim to be the Light of the World? 

“I think we got them all,” he says hopefully. “Let’s both look carefully.”

And we do. We stare at the tree, walking inch by inch around it like revolving doors. We look at each little pre-lit branch on our compromise-fake-green tree, which we purchased a few years ago. We bought it trusting light strand hassles to be a thing of the past. 


After an entire evening spent looking for those tiny little dark sinners and expelling them from the congregation, finally, finally the tree glows. 

We high five, sit down and enjoy the peace and beauty. Background Christmas music plays. 

Homemade ornaments our kids crafted when they were little hang suspended like bright memories. We whisper back and forth because the magic shouldn’t be broken.

And then from the chair in the corner, loud, slow and deliberate my husband shatters the bliss.  

“I see one that’s not working.” 

And just like that, a sad dark river sweeps across the middle. It’s wave devours and divides the happy good little lights on the top from the sweet twinkling lights on the bottom.  

So maybe the real moral of the story has more to do with Christmas patience than Christmas lights, about appreciation of beauty’s simplicity, or remembering Christmas isn’t about fancy trappings. 

However, do not be surprised if you find a sparkling aluminum tree changing colors like a chameleon in our living room next year, lighting the darkness. It will be stunning.  

Looking for some Christmas advent readings? Here are some previous posts:

 How to Bring Glory Into Your Christmas Celebration

  My Christmas Gift Bought With A Child’s Heart

  Looking For Immanuel In The Christmas That Almost Isn’t

What Kind of World Did Jesus Enter

. What If My Angel’s Wing Is Clipped

. Joseph Did You Know?

   If you aren’t familiar with the online magazine Refresh (Lighthouse Bible Studies), you should be. Sign up for free. I’ve been privileged to contribute to their Christmas edition:

Magazine-Style Version (great for viewing on the computer):

Single-Page Version (easier to view on mobile devices):

7 Replies

  1. Lois S. Reply

    My grandparents had an aluminum tree like that. So in my mind it was a grandparent thing. (Though the other grandmother had a cedar tree from the pasture.) We have a few “dark little sinners” among the lights in our garland. I just ignore them. In my experience, trying to replace them a. doesn’t work, b. can sometimes make the entire strand quit working. (If we want spiritual parallels here, perhaps we could look at Matthew 13:29
    But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.”)

  2. Nancy E. Head Reply

    This time of year is when we most relish in our traditions. We cut the real tree down with my oldest daughter and her family. It’s become “our” tradition.

    Maybe what kind of tree we have isn’t important. It’s what we carry with us into the New Year: Love for God, for others, and the memories we’ve made together.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Honestly, I love real trees. I love the whole tradition of finding, cutting and watching it go up. And when they are all lit up, nothing is better. But you are right, the tree isn’t the important part. Thank you for your insight: Love for God, others, and the memories. Thanks Nancy!

  3. Linda Kniep Reply

    OH MY!! So much truth here!! Our family were one of the poorer tribes who got their ugly tree from a pasture. But it sure was pretty at the time. When I grew older and look back on the picture of that tree and 3 of us kids standing around it laughing so hard, it still looks kind of pretty! (Oh and we did get a nice aluminum tree once, but sadly we had no twirling circle thing that made the tree sparkle with color!!) Oh well…Life is still good, isn’t it! Merry Christmas friends!! God is good always!

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Merry Christmas! So good to hear from you. Honestly since I wrote this we have a whole middle section of lights out again. Do you thing I’m not getting some message?

  4. Barbara Latta Reply

    We didn’t have the aluminum tree but I remember seeing those in windows with the color wheel changing the silver into a rainbow of Christmas hues. The multitude of lights on the green trees were a challenge when some didn’t work. They do present a picture of the darkness of souls who refuse to connect to the light source of life. Thanks for sharing this humorous story with an inspiring message, Sylvia. Merry Christmas!