I have a little confession to make, and at this time of year, it's not pretty.
I struggle every Christmas with putting up the tree. There, I said it.
Buying gifts? No problem. I've got that all covered by Hallowe'en. Christmas cards? They're all written, addressed and postaged by the end of November. Shortbread baked? Yup, love it. All done and ready to hand out. But that darned tree? Hrummmphhhhh ..... somehow the job just haunts me like the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Me and Christmas trees have just never seen eye to eye, and the reason is trimming a tree is never a quick and easy task.
I'm not sure when this neurosis about the tree developed. It was always exciting to me as a kid, watching my dad drag a real tree out of the trunk of his company car and stand it up outside on the veranda. I didn't even mind when he tossed out a swear word or two as he struggled to wrestle the tree trunk into the stand. Christmas tree stands of the 1950's were astonishingly ineffective contraptions -- a ring with three or four spikes drilled through it hovering over a shallow little water dish. It no more looked like it could support a forty pound six foot tree than a toothpick could support a boulder!
But even that annual episode didn't dim my enthusiasm for our family Christmas tree. Inside, after the carpet was covered in needles due to the dragging from the front door to the livingroom, the tree apologetically dripped droplets of water all over the floor as the snow and ice clinging to its branches melted in the warmth of our house. Now it was my mom's turn to be all flustered about the mess and she clucked around the room trying to pick up as many needles as she could to spare our twenty year old vacuum cleaner a heart attack, I guess.
This ... THIS ... though, was the fun part! Decorating it! Yes! I couldn't wait! But wait I had to because I learned early in life that not one ornament, not one shiny ball could be touched until one of my brothers finished stringing the lights. And THAT seemed to take hours! You see, in our haste to pack up the Christmas decorations the year before, we had stashed the light strings and tinsel ropes into their storage boxes in one garbled heap. That meant that this year we FIRST needed to untangle the lights, then check them for dead bulbs, and THEN string them around and around our symbol of peace and goodwill toward men.
Over the years, we've had more than our fair share of challenges with the Christmas tree. One year, we overestimated the height of our livingroom ceiling, and bought an eight foot tree for a seven foot ceiling allowance. So my husband tried to trim the top of the tree after we had it up in the stand. He punctured the ceiling with the hacksaw and it was neither a silent night, nor a holy night that night! Another year, when the kids were little, we spent a marvellous day trimming the tree, only to wake up the next day to find it lying flat on the floor, ornaments smashed, tinsel strewn, a total disaster!
Somehow, though, hope springs eternal in the human heart, and now, with only one week until Christmas, I cannot procrastinate any longer. The tree must go up. Reluctantly, I headed out into the shed where we store the Christmas decorations, and dragged out the boxes of balls, tinsel, lights, tree skirt, star and of course, the tree. As I carried all of this cargo inside, I gave thanks to modern manufacturers who figured out how to make artificial Christmas trees that fold up like umbrellas. Perfect. That eliminates the needles, the melting snow, the confounding tree stand, not to mention the constant watering of the tree. Ever tried to wiggle under the prickly branches of a pine tree to water it? It's like wrestling with a porcupine!
Okay, so the tree was a snap to assemble -- three sections, start at the bottom, every row of branches folds down and feathers out beautifully. I'm feeling proud! This is easy! Remembering the number one rule about lights first, I find four strings of 100 lights each coiled neatly in their packages. Yahoo! The number two rule, test the lights before stringing them on the tree, brought my next victory. They all worked! I was pumped!
Before long I had the lights strung and lit, the tinsel rope swagged and all the shiny gold balls placed strategically (and artfully, I might add) in a symphony of proportion and balance. Next came the special ornaments. I savoured the moment, admiring all my favourites -- the ornament shaped like a Canadian flag, the bright red cardinals, the gold embossed wooden creations handmade by a close friend. I was so happy I began humming the tune to The Twelve Days of Christmas. Yes, a partridge in a pear tree!
At last, it was time for the star. The star was my favourite childhood memory because that signalled the end of our task and the beginning of the most beautiful spectacle of the Christmas season, the lighting of our very own family Christmas tree.
Congratulating myself for having the foresight to make sure the female end of the last string was nestled up close to where the star needed to plug in, I placed the star on the top branch. But before I could connect its plug, it popped off and tumbled to the floor. Okay, a little adjustment was needed to make the star stay firmly in place. (Good thing this didn't happen to the real Star of Bethlehem, I muttered, or the wise men may NEVER have found the Christ child!)
Four adjustments and three topplings of the star later, it was stable and ready to be plugged in. Voila! I stood back in amazement as nothing happened! It didn't light up! It was deader than a doornail. My star was a dud.
As I yanked the wretched star off its lofty perch, I could have sworn the whole tree was staring back at me like a headless horseman, laughing at my audacity in thinking I had aced the tree thing. And in my mind, I started to re-write the lyrics to The Twelve Days of Christmas:
"Four hundred white lights,
Three dozen gold balls
Two pairs of cardinals
And a star that is royally pooched!"
A day or two later, with a new star firmly ensconced where it should be, illuminated with a soft golden glow, I sat back and thought of those early days of tree decorating and holiday making -- and the patience required to prepare the house and the family for the celebration of the birth of the Messiah.
And I realize that, after all these years, I am finally learning the lesson of patience. It will be my Christmas gift to myself.
And as for the tree? Aw heck, it's worth it!