When ‘decking the halls’ — and roofs or yards — goes horribly wrong

Christmas lights were in high demand this year. With so much going wrong in so many people’s lives, it was an easy way to spread some cheer and get ready for a holiday season that also marks the end of 2020.

But as Chevy Chase’s character in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” made clear, sometimes working with Christmas lights doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes, you need help.

John DeCosmo, the president of Ulta-Lit Tree Company, has received a lot of those calls for help over the years. His company makes products that light up — as well as tools that are supposed to help you figure out why something didn’t light up.

It’s hard for DeCosmo to keep from laughing when the first thing a customer says is, “you’ve got to help me fix my butt,” and it has nothing to do with proctology. It’s usually about a reindeer decoration that isn’t lighting up all the way.

“That’s kind of cute to us,” he admitted.

Sometimes, the solution is pretty simple.

“We’re working with this customer the better part of 30 minutes, and they’re really trying to get the light set fixed,” DeCosmo said. “Except they never plugged into a wall.”

Phone calls with engineers and electricians always take on a different tone. They typically think they always know as much, or more, than the Christmas light experts and are ready to argue about things, he said.

But the scariest calls now come thanks to modern technology.

“They started calling from cordless phones on the roof,” said DeCosmo. “We had to have super tech training meetings to say: ‘Don’t talk to them. Don’t. Get off the roof!’”

In some cases, you can prevent headaches from ever happening by simply coming up with a plan first.

“You can’t believe how many times people first hang the lights on the roof, and they’re so happy they have the gutter clips and they’re ready, and then they say ‘uh-oh,’” said DeCosmo, because they realized they had set up the string of lights backward. “Then they call us, and they want to insert power through the female end.”

“Take a little time with planning,” he said.

DeCosmo got indignant when asked if there was such a thing as too many lights on a house, and he said even if you believe you can’t have Christmas lights until after Thanksgiving, it’s OK to take advantage of nicer weather in the fall and hang them up early when it’s not as cold out.

“Plug them in after Thanksgiving if you’re that hyper-focused,” he advised, because it only gets harder when the weather does change.

But, when dealing with Christmas lights, you’re inevitably dealing with things that are intended to make people happy. When the problem gets solved, in customers’ eyes at least, it’s a minor Christmas miracle.

“The accolades we get for the instant fix are surreal,” DeCosmo said. “They keep us going.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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