I hid when the Christmas lights were pulled out of the basement and garage, intentionally busying myself with hanging snowflakes, arranging nutcrackers and placing sparkly reindeer on the mantel.
I’ve been handling the lights for the past 34 Christmases, and well, I needed a break. I know what a pain they are, emerging in a tangled mass no matter how neatly you store them. And then there is the frustration: strings that don’t light or light up only half way, making you wonder if you should toss them or hide the dead side near the trunk.
After more than three decades, I’ve seen and done it all. I even paid an astronomical amount of money at the local hardware store for lights guaranteed to work for three years. They didn’t, but I never returned them because I was too lazy and overwhelmed with other Christmas stuff.
A friend went the artificial route, buying a lighted tree off Amazon and going all out decorating it. But the next day, the tree wouldn’t light. Amazon offered to send her a new tree, but that would involve dismantling her decorated tree and starting over again. Um, no. Convenience is one of the reasons people go the artificial route in the first place.
She was told she could keep the broken tree, and would be sent a new one for next year. She opted to just hang new lights on the broken tree to spare herself the hassle of starting over. I don’t blame her: I hate to do things twice, particularly something that I only expect to do once a year.
But it raises the question: why can’t someone invent a set of Christmas lights (or artificial trees) that will light year after year? I know there are gadgets that look like glue guns to fix lights, but those look like a headache waiting to happen. They remind me of those replacement kits for broken lamps. Only the most handy and patient people would go through that kind of trouble to save a lamp. Most of us just buy a new one.
Putting up the Christmas lights is a major decorating ordeal, ruining our hopes of having a wonderful holiday moment. The first step is to find the lights, untangle them and separate the good from the broken. The second is to actually string them on the tree with about a foot’s clearance from the wall.
I know there are people who do this job alone. But let’s face it: it’s a two-person task. You need a person on one side to hand you the lights and another person to guide the lights around the tree. It’s best if that person is on the slim side and has long arms to reach between the tree and the wall or window.
I decided to busy myself with other tasks to avoid the lights. My son knew what I was up to, coming into the dining room to ask why I wasn’t helping with the tree. “I’ll be in a few minutes,” I said. “I’ve just got to do a few things in here.”
I got my wish. The Curmudgeon began attacking the lights, separating them into piles as though he was sorting legal documents. Within minutes (well, about an hour), lights were covering a chair, couch and the floor. And then the fun began: he started stringing the lights on the tree, losing his patience after about a minute.
“Will someone help me?” he screamed. “And get this Christmas music off. All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth isn’t real Christmas music. Someone put on Silent Night or something else. Just not this.”
We put on Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas, a snappy tune that puts everyone in a great mood. My son began dancing in the corner as the Curmudgeon screamed, “Hang these. Take these. Start placing the lights on branches.”
The scene reminded me of why so many people have problems with Christmas. We all have wonderful images of family togetherness and unity trimming the tree, and then there is the reality: needles in your head from crawling under the tree to put it in the stand, sap marks on the ceiling and the coup de grace: the lights.
I guess this is why people take pictures of the finished product and post pictures of their glorious trees on Facebook, Instagram and other social media. No one takes pictures of hanging the lights or the process of trimming the tree. Then again, it’s not something anyone really wants to document or remember.
Perhaps this is why my Facebook friend Kate recently posted a photo of her tree with the caption “Done!” I think we all understood her glee.
As is the case most years, we’ve been forced to divide the tree decorating into two days: the lights, and then the actual decorating. The lights took so long to hang that no one had the time, energy or interest in the actual hanging of ornaments, candy canes or tinsel.
But the lights are up, and I must say the gentlemen did a wonderful job. The lights are evenly spaced and plentiful, capturing the beauty and outline of our fresh tree and concealing most of the gaps in the branches. There is nothing I love more than the glow of a Christmas tree in a room, or the sight of a lighted tree in a distant window.
It’s especially wonderful when I have absolutely nothing to do with it.