I thought I could hold out until Friday, but as I stared at my Christmas tree’s unlit midriff, I realized that was too long to wait.
I’d ordered a set of spare incandescent bulbs for my Christmas tree on Amazon, but the delivery was days away and the problem was staring me in the face. The more I thought about it, the trouble didn’t seem to be a single bulb, anyway. Half the strand on the middle section of the pre-lit tree was dark, and the internet seemed to agree that one burnt-out bulb shouldn’t bring down the whole string.
I opened Amazon and typed “Christmas tree light voltage checker” into the search bar. Predictably, my search returned a sea of same-looking products made by companies with alphabet-soup names. I clicked on Amazon’s “overall pick,” which indicated about halfway down the product page that it was not, in fact, suitable for checking Christmas lights. Cool. I shut my computer and walked to the neighborhood hardware store.
Walking the aisles of McLendon, I considered just buying a new strand of lights, but several things compelled me to keep digging. For starters, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to buy A Gadget. Also, my tree came pre-lit so taking the lights off is a real pain. But if I’m being honest, the challenge was the biggest temptation. The answer felt tantalizingly close — an incredibly low-stakes mystery to solve.
Unlike the hundreds of options presented by Amazon, my hardware store had just two: the LightKeeper Pro for incandescent lights and the LED Keeper Pro for… you get it. I walked back home with the LightKeeper Pro in hand at 3:30PM, just as the street lamps turned on.
The top of the first page of instructions calls the product “A Cool Yule Tool”
The LightKeeper Pro is a product of the Ulta-Lit Tree Company, headquartered outside of Chicago, and there’s a delightfully homespun vibe about the whole thing. The top of the first page of instructions calls the product “A Cool Yule Tool,” a phrase which Ulta-Lit holds as a registered trademark. This big dad energy carries through on the LightKeeper Pro website, which has a link to a newer product under the heading “Watt’s up?”
Even more intriguing is the tool’s simple three-step “quick fix” method. According to the accompanying literature, most incandescent Christmas string light failures are due to a malfunctioning shunt — that’s the thing in each lightbulb that keeps electricity flowing through even if it burns out. To fix this, you simply unscrew a bulb from the unlit section of the strand, stick the socket into the tool, and pull the trigger to shoot electricity into the light strand. This somehow “finds” (?) and fixes (!) the broken shunt, allowing power to once again flow through your Christmas lights.
This didn’t work for me. But not losing hope quite yet, I moved on to the LightKeeper’s second tool: voltage detection. The literature accompanying the LightKeeper includes a miniature lesson about electricity, which is, again, some big dad energy. The Ulta-Lit company’s insistence on teaching, not just fixing, is downright charming. You just don’t get that kind of personal touch from an Amazon product listing. Anyway, I found the offending bulb in a couple of minutes using the voltage detector.
The Ulta-lit company’s insistence on teaching, not just fixing, is downright charming
The problem turned out to be a loose metal contact in the socket itself. I put the whole thing back together, wrapped it up with some tape and a prayer, and plugged the lights back in. A choir of angels sang as every bulb on the strand lit up, blazing pure joy into the pitch black afternoon.
The small act of literally bringing more light to the darkest part of a very dark season wasn’t the only satisfying thing about solving my Christmas light mystery. It also feels just plain good to fix something rather than throw it away. Fashion, toys — so much stuff is only made to last a season. One strand of lights isn’t much, but it felt like a small victory to keep just one thing out of a landfill at least a little while longer. And if the lights go out again next year, well, I’ll be armed and ready with a cool yule tool.