It can drive you to drink. Every year the tradition of putting up the lights stirs up trouble. Some people just leave the lights on their house all year and turn them on after Thanksgiving. I’ve seen them lying dormant in August while driving through suburban neighborhoods (You know who you are, lazy-bones!)
I would never do that. Not only am I a purist, I don’t stay in one place long enough to make it work. Last year when I was repatriating from Costa Rica, an old friend, well old boyfriend, donated a tree stand and three packets of brand new tree lights to my household. If you recall, I moved back to Capitola from Costa Rica with very few possessions…mostly clothing and writing notes. No furniture, no kitchen equipment, and certainly no Christmas lights. I was thrilled when he gave me the stuff, and suggested he help me with the fun. His schedule was full, so I did it myself.
I hauled a seven-foot tree into my tiny apartment, rearranged my furniture, and gave the majestic fir its place of honor near the sliding glass door corner where it could be enjoyed by me as well as the folks outside. No old-lady artificial table-top tree for me – no sir! I insist on the real thing. I love the pine smell and the childhood memories it conjures up. I grew up in New York where we mostly did have White Christmases.
This year, as I unpacked the Christmas box in preparation for the big tree ritual, I called my friend who gave me the lights, “Hey, wanna come help me do the tree this year? After all, it’s your stand and your lights.”
He seemed delighted to be invited, but insisted, “They are your lights and your stand. I gave them to you. But I will be happy to help.”
I’m not as meticulous as he is. Far from it, actually. He admits to having OCD and I knew he would be appalled when he saw the spaghetti ball of lights I hauled out of the plastic storage container.
He quickly set about untangling the mess, all the while grumbling under his breath. He asked, “Do you string the lights up and down, or circle around the tree? Do you open the wires and thread the branches through or just lay them on top? Do you mind if I cut a couple of inches off the top of the tree so we’re not looking up the angel’s skirt? Do you have one of those twisty ties so I can secure the angel to the tree? This tree is dropping needles already. Did you put water in the stand? It shouldn’t be dropping needles so soon. You just got it, right?”
Oy vey! What have I gotten myself into?
Halfway through the lights, the top strand went out. Oh, no! We started jiggling the bulbs and found the loose one. Yay! All lights were on. Five minutes later, they went out again. This was too much for my friend.
His face went red, his hands started shaking, and he shouted, “Dammit! These are cheap lights. It’s gonna take me hours to fix this! And I have an appointment in half an hour!”
I went straight to the fridge, cracked a beer and raced to him where he was teetering on the stepladder juggling the bulbs.
“Here, take this. Come down from the ladder and sit with me for a few minutes. Come on. Walk away from the tree – just walk away. Let’s go. We’re going to the kitchen. Now.”
He reluctantly dragged his sweaty self away at my insistence. I poured myself a glass of Chardonnay (It’s five o’clock somewhere!) and changed the subject. “So, where is your appointment?”
He took a deep breath, “Right around the corner. It’s with my shrink.”
I couldn’t help myself – I burst into laughter.
He laughed, too, and said, “You will be the main topic of conversation.”
“Me?! What did I do?”
“I can come back after the appointment and finish the lights.”
I wanted to lunge across the table and strangle him, but instead I smiled sweetly and said, “Oh, no. You’ve already done so much. I can finish up from here. When it’s all done, I’ll have you over for a nice dinner and we can enjoy.”
As soon as he was out the door, I bolted across the room and ripped the lights off the tree. I jumped in my car and drove to Ace Hardware. I grabbed up a half dozen packages of lights – I didn’t care how much they cost, they were worth it. I had them strung up on the tree lickety-split, lit them up (no duds), and sat back in my Lay-Z-Boy wingback, raised the footrest and just breathed. Whew! Life is good, and nobody got hurt. Let the holidays begin.