As grateful as I am that our charmingly decorated Christmas tree, fresh cut this year from the picturesque mountainside of Mountain City, TN, is drinking water like a thirsty cow during hot summer months and not dropping any of its needles, a pass by the Fraser Fir this morning hastened a case of the heebie-jeebies. What had I allowed to enter my mind to trigger this odd reaction to our handsome tree with its refreshing piney smell permeating throughout the room?
For a millisecond, I went there — to the task dreaded by husbands the world over. De-lighting the Christmas tree.
Long ago, I concluded that Christmas tree lights are haunted, likely by a ghost from Christmas past. Either that or they’re a plot by manufacturers in the orient to mess with millions of husbands’ conscientiousness in these United States of America. One or the other. Zero doubts.
A Sinister Plot
From the get-go, these wired illuminations, although beautiful, are borderline sinister. At best, the front-end process starts with newly purchased lights tightly wrapped and jammed together like sardines in a can. (Again, think about where the lights are made.) At worst, you pull out last year’s jumbled ball of lights, tangled to the point that you insist that someone messed with them before the box containing the twisted strand was closed following last year’s decorations teardown.
After patiently untwisting the jumbled ball or pulling apart the newbies, next comes the act of stretching the strands of lights across the floor of several rooms, taking a deep breath and saying a few hosannas before you insert the plug. If you’ve led a good life the prior 11 months, you witness a lovely set of running lights that could guide the Big Guy’s sleigh. If you’ve slipped up even once, either the entire old strand is dark or perhaps only a few bulbs are dead soldiers.
If you’re blessed, 45 minutes after opening the box from storage, you have three fully working 100-light strands — one solely white lights, the other two with colored bulbs.
Getting Gussied Up
Mounted firmly in its stand, the tree mocks you as you approach with the white strand wrapped lasso-like in one hand and the odd plug-in gizmo in the other. When I was a child, lights were weaved in and out of the branches, top to bottom. No more. Again, I suspect a plot by our adversaries now dictates that the first strand of only-white lights must be used to tightly wrap the inner-tree trunk so that the tree will “glow” from its core. Painstaking is a modest and refined description of the pricks and scratches that accompany this act. When sufficiently wrapped barber-pole-like around the trunk, you then move to the careful weaving and lacing of the two multi-colored 100-lights strands, which inevitably end their parade around the tree just before you reach the top or bottom section of the tree.
Holding your breath as you plug the combined strands into your extra-long extension cord that was called into service because your intricate wrapping left the plug halfway up the tree, you again silently summon a deity or the supernatural. Success! Lights and Joy to the World as this new 60-minute exercise concludes and green-lights the family to begin adding family ornaments and keepsakes onto the ever-more-beautiful holiday tree. Breathtaking. Every year’s tree is the family’s best ever. Dad’s a hero. Again. Break out the hot chocolate and marshmallows as husbands worldwide collapse into their recliners with remote at ready.
Good Grief, Charlie Brown
Three mornings later, you come downstairs, and a third of your tree is dark. I’m telling you, it’s a commie plot. Uttering a word that almost assures placement on Santa’s bad list, you’re crestfallen, knowing that there is no way on God’s green earth that you can find the single light bulb that went dead, causing the entire strand to go out in support of their fallen comrade. Moreover, the guilty strand is protected season-long from your wrath with cover from the beautiful, delicate ornaments carefully placed throughout the branches. Merry Christmas. Despite the despair, you take a deep breath and don’t get your tinsel in a tangle because it is what it is, and you’re thankful that the inner-strand and one of the others are doing their glow and twinkling thing.
The holidays go by too quickly, another blessed family Christmas in the books. It’s time to take down the holiday tree. After carefully removing and packing away the ornaments, the tree with lights intact is deftly moved outside, spreading needles from room to room. Then it’s rematch time — you versus the lights.
One would think that reverse-engineering the entire tree-lights process would assure ease and success — i.e., a careful retracing of the weaving through the branches will result in easy removal of the first strand. Nope. To get the proper distancing of lights pre-ornament placement, you had to move and wrap sections of the weaved strand, which is now hopelessly tangled amongst the tree’s branches. If you’re stubborn and persist in the quest to save the strand for use next Christmas, your shaken self eventually succeeds in extracting the outer strands.
Of course, you can’t get to the core/glow lights without first removing the outer strands. Attempting to do so will result in extreme frustration to the point that your head will start spinning, and your wife will make a call to have you committed. At this point, you’re having as much fun as a colorblind person playing twister. But have faith! The task is nearly complete!
Or you can do what I confidentially resort to doing approximately every third New Year — responsibly dispose of the tree without taking off a single strand of lights. As much as I hate spending monies on new lights, I detest this final extraction exercise even more. In such years, I take comfort, too, that at least with new lights in the offing next December, the odds are slightly better that I’ll get through the ensuing holiday season with a beautiful light show. My adoring wife chalks this up to me being lazy. Again. I prefer to think of it as keeping my sanity intact, being exceedingly efficient, and not letting the commies win.
With lights finally off and balled up for storage, the story here in the High Country always has a happy ending. Because we cut our beauty from a local Christmas tree farm, got it home and immediately into water, and kept it quenched throughout the holidays, the Fraser Fir is still as happy as a hog in a wallow. We move it, still in its stand, onto the deck, back outside to its native environment. In this location, our beautiful evergreen always continues to drink like a fish until at least Valentine’s Day. It clearly loves the cold weather and the snow, and invariably perks up and becomes temporary home to some species of birds. We always place a few outdoor decorations on it (no lights, of course) to make it feel that it’s still contributing to our extended holidays and family smiles.
And then, inevitably, with warmer weather and needles starting to fall, I extricate our friend from the stand and drag it out to the nearby woods. I carefully stand him up against a “big brother” for a fitting farewell. Satisfied that he’s positioned sturdy enough to proudly stand for the coming seasons, I say an appreciative, reverential “thanks” as I walk away looking back at our family friend. He did his job superbly.
Love me some Christmas trees. Love me some Christmastime. And although still very suspicious of those darned lights, I reckon that it’s all worth the effort.
Addendum from LSomerbyCooke … The High Country of NC and TN is one of the best locales in the USA to source beautiful Christmas trees. The outdoors pictures above were taken at our family’s go-to choose-and-cut business — Wintergreen Farm in Mountain City, TN. Check’em out. Simon and Vonnie are great people, and you will love the countryside and selection.