Last year as I was assembling our artificial Christmas tree for the 17th time, I wondered if it would be my last time to put up this particular tree. With the advent of pre-lit trees, it seemed a much easier task would be to just purchase a new one. But time was short as we were going to be out of town on a 12-day trip the week after Thanksgiving and with no time to research a new tree, I proceeded as usual with our existing tree.
We originally purchased this tree in 2002 after my wife realized that our existing six-foot artificial tree was too short for the vaulted ceiling, we now had in our new home that we moved to in 1999.
What we purchased was a 9-foot tree that included 14 layers comprised of 94 individual branches and a tree topper the size of a table-top tree. At the time, I don’t think pre-lit trees existed so that was not even an option. While I was still working full-time, it always required a weekend (or the holiday after Thanksgiving) to assemble the tree as it was about a 5-hour job.
The technique I developed somewhere along the way over the years was to string the lights on the tree as I added each layer. Because the branches were so large near the bottom of the tree, I actually overlapped my light strings to ensure plenty of light coverage weaving two separate strands at the same time, usually one of which included a flashing section of lights. To maintain this level of density, it takes 16 strands of 100-light strings for a total of 1600 individual bulbs (my wife likes lots of lights).
I continued this practice as I moved up the tree to the point at which, usually after about three hours later, I can’t continue due to back fatigue or sheer tree assembly exhaustion.
At this point, I typically have an odd-looking tree, about half complete but with most of the lighting done.
The next day, I pick up where I left off and since these upper branches are much shorter, do not require nearly as much time to string lights.
It is always with a great sense of satisfaction when I attach the last branch that I can sit down and enjoy my handy work. But of course, the job is not done until it is decorated which, last year, our in-town granddaughter helped us do.
Over 40 years of marriage, we have accumulated quite a number of ornaments so this step as well takes a while.
I realized once it was completed that this particular tree had witnessed all but a few of the Christmas seasons that we had celebrated in our existing home, and nearly half of those of our entire marriage. If I was going to get rid of it, it would be disposing of a witness to a lot of that history.
And this wasn’t the first time I considered getting a new tree. In 2011 when our two oldest children who lived on the west coast both got married, I realized it might be the rare Christmas for the whole family to be together again and so maybe we didn’t need such a large tree.
In fact, in 2014 when we were going to be out of town over Christmas, we actually purchased a smaller pre-lit tree which we placed in a different location not to be dwarfed by the high vaulted ceiling. It was so simple to assemble, just three main sections, with the branches folding out like an umbrella. It probably took less than 10 minutes to set up.
But then, not long afterwards, we began to have grandchildren and to a young toddler, a brightly lit tall tree was a thing to behold.
While our existing 9-foot tree was always laborious to assemble, it was very dense. Over the years as I have seen more and more pre-lit trees, they just don’t seem to be as dense nor have as many lights. And none of these have the history of our existing tree.
So, this year I didn’t even consider looking for a new tree but rather just picked two days over which I planned to assemble our now 18-year-old tree. As I got started on the Tuesday afternoon after Thanksgiving, I remembered what a task it was to put together. But I powered through it and before the day was out, had about half of it assembled. When my wife walked in and saw my progress, she just thought it looked like a colorful ostrich (I must say I never thought that).
The next morning, I got started back making fast progress with the shorter branches. But when I had about eight branches left to attach to the tree, I ran out of lights. I guess I had been a bit overzealous in the overlapping of my light strings. I quickly ran out to get another 100-light strand and just to be on the safe side, bought two packages.
I ended up using them both which gave the tree an even better look at the top with the additional 200 lights.
Of course, this was just the first step; we still had to decorate it which we did a few days later.
Now the tree was ready to begin to accumulate the colorful little packages underneath that would bring smiles of joy to their recipients on Christmas Day. And this year, the tree would be welcoming for the first time, the marvel of the little eyes of our newest grandson.
And Christmas Eve, after everyone is in bed, Santa will lovingly place under the tree the special present that I had secretly built for my granddaughter this year.
After 18 years, this tree has become a special part of our family. It has witnessed all three of our kids coming home from college, bringing their new spouses home with them for the first time, and witnessing almost every one of our now six grandchildren’s wonderous eyes on Christmas morning.
No, this tree will be with us for a while longer and continue to witness the love and joy of our expanded family during this wonderful time of year!