I suppose next year I could get a pre-lit tree. Some of my friends have been gushing about how the artificial wonders pop open like an umbrella and within a few moments the tree is glittering in all its pre-lit glory. With the “hard part” taken care of, they boast that they can actually enjoy adorning the tree with bright ornaments and garland.
For me, fighting with the tree has become one of those traditions that completes the holidays. I doubt I’d feel the same Christmas spirit if I didn’t have to engage in a yearly rumble with my artificial blue spruce.
What’s Christmas without the sweet sound of swearing after another strand of lights have blown out?
I grew up helping my mother lug our old tree, contained in a refrigerator-sized box, up from the basement. After assembling the main support pole, Mom would snap the color-coded limbs into place and carefully fan out each branch. Our family cat would assist in the process and this meant Mom would have to perform emergency surgery and wire a branch back together.
The process also involved my mother performing an odd sort of swan dive as and she disappeared beneath the bottom branches to tighten the bolts in the tree stand in an attempt straighten the nine foot behemoth. I remember that despite her best efforts, it always leaned a little to the right.
Then from a red plastic tote, which had lived for 11 months of out of the year in the darkest corner of the basement, came an endless line of white lights. Some strands had lights that were different sizes, others shone dimmer than others. The family tree may have had a little less than 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights but I bet Clark W. Griswold would proud nonetheless.
Sometime near midnight, the arduous task of hanging the lights would be complete and with the flick of a switch, and at least one blown fuse, our tree would be alive with a white glow.
If my younger brother and I weren’t too tired, and if Mom wasn’t too frazzled, we’d finally begin hanging the ornaments. Hardly any of the collection matched, and some looked a little worse for wear, but each told a story.
This is my second year living away from my family and the old tree.
A week ago, Mom called to say that the cat had sat on yet another branch and managed to snap it in two. She informed me that this might be the last year for the 20-year-old tree.
I began to protest, insisting that the aging tree was as much a part of Christmas as obnoxious carols, too much eggnog, and rampant materialism. She cut me off before I could continue with my rant and calmly said that the torch had been passed.
So from now on, I’ll be struggling with the artificial boughs of a blue spruce every December, while my mother simply unfolds her new pre-lit tree.
Huggins, who reports on Five Mile Beach, writes from Wildwood Crest.
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