Putting up a Christmas tree is not a completely horrible experience, but it’s mighty close. On the upside, I’ve never broken out a bay window or electrocuted a cat or set an old man on fire in the context of tree-trimming, á la Clark Griswold. So, there’s that, at least. No one has ever died whilst the tree is being erected, knock on wood, so I guess that’s something. However, it is a frustrating endeavor – and surprisingly painful – and nothing ever seems to go as planned.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a Grinch or a Scrooge. On the contrary, I love Christmas and all things Christmas-related, with the exception of giant blow-up lawn decorations, which I find abhorrent. Santa, snowmen, elves, and eggnog – I love it all. Bring on the presents and Elvis’ Christmas Album and all forms of holiday cheer. My only problem is with the easily definable period of time from when you start putting up the Christmas tree until it is complete.
I suppose “dread” would be an appropriate description of the anticipation of this process, roughly on the same level as the gut-wrenching sense of doom leading up to a wisdom tooth extraction. You have strands of lights, “decorating,” and misshapen metal branches – three things that I hate – all coalescing into one monster of a challenge that inevitably takes up an entire Saturday.
Why do I do it, then? What’s the point? Well, some things you just do, no matter what. There are certain rules that you follow. You have turkey on Thanksgiving even if you don’t like it. Save the ham and beef tenderloin for another day. In Alabama there are two football teams, and you must pick one if you’re going to hang around here for very long, or you will be deemed weird. There’s no fence-straddling around these parts. When you go to the beach, you eat seafood or pizza, not barbeque or Mexican. Obviously. When you go to the movies you get there in time for the previews. Otherwise, what’s the point? And, in December you stand up a tree in your house and put lights on it. No questions asked.
Some people take the easy route and invest in pre-illuminated trees. Not I. I take the road less traveled. If a tree goes up in my house, it will be chock-full o’ those big, old-fashioned, colored glass Christmas lights – 25 to a strand. Nothing else will do. However, they are a bear to work with. Half of them won’t work. Inevitably, two or three will bang against the hardwood floor – POP! – bursting into a thousand tiny slivers of razor-sharp glass projectiles. And, inevitably, I will be barefoot. This is clearly not an optimal combination of circumstances, but I never seem to learn.
I am a Christmas tree perfectionist, and I was taught from a very young age that you HIDE THE CORDS, at all cost. As if anyone in the world would care, really, but I painstakingly wrap every limb of that vile fake tree with strand after strand of lights. It takes me forever. I suppose I do care, after all, and that’s what motivates me, but for the impatient, accomplishing hidden cords is a loathsome process. I try to avoid using profanity, but the one time of year I’m most tempted to string a few choice words together is when those lights are about halfway up that tree. Mercy!
Every year, when I’m midway through wrapping lights and I’m sweating and swearing and my foot is bleeding from being imbedded with glass shards and my hands are raw, scratched and bloody from plunging them repeatedly into sharp metal branches, I usually pause, very calmly, put on my shoes, and make a trip to Lowe’s. This is the year I, I tell myself. This is the year I am finally throwing out that old fake tree and buying a Cadillac-model pre-lit one-plug easy-connect artificial Frasier fir. It’ll be up in 5 minutes flat, and I’ll be done with it. And, every year, as I am surveying the artificial trees on display, I realize that none of them look half as good as my old fake tree with the big, colored lights. Not even close.
I go back home and finish what I started, hang the ornaments, and about 9 o’clock that evening, when I finally sit down in my big leather recliner, turn off all interior illumination except for the big gaudy lights on my painstakingly-assembled tree, and survey my work, I am always deeply satisfied with the result. That is my tree, from top to bottom, and it was worth it.