My favorite Christmas memory growing up was the inevitable frustration and hassle of putting lights on the tree. I remember as a kid my Dad would pull out our fake tree (bought one year after our tree topper almost caught fire) and enough Christmas lights to stretch around the Earth… twice. No matter how carefully they were put up the year before they always came out of the box looking like they’d been put through the spin cycle on an old washing machine. One giant clump of lights that had to be detangled, tested, repaired, and finally, hung.
This caused my Dad no end of frustration and we’d organize into groups to get it all sorted. Mom would sit on the couch slowly working through snarls and knots until she had a clean string of lights for someone to test in an outlet. Everyone cheered when they lit up on the first try. When they didn’t work they were passed off to one of us kids to start plugging in a working bulb until we found the broken one. You remember those strings of light where if one burned out the whole strand went dark and you had to go through every one to find the problem. That was my personal, awesome, Christmas contribution. I am GREAT at finding those little broken plugs, a gift that is definitely under appreciated.
Sometimes this process took hours, and after all that work we would get to hang ornaments. I love this part. All those little pieces of history, packed away for 11 months of the year and in December they get to speak. Ornaments that were handmade, a few that were breakable and lucky enough to have survived us kids. Mom was really good at marking years and names so you could map out your whole life in ornaments, from “Baby’s First Christmas” to the previous year’s popsicle stick creation. Each decoration was a reminder of where we had been Christmases past, making us appreciate where we were now. At the end we had this amazing tree that couldn’t exist if we weren’t all a part of putting it up.
Now I have my own kids and I’ll never buy a pre-lit tree. Maybe someday when my kids get older they’ll look back and remember the crazy process of getting our tree put together. Their Dad yelling things like “Lights are $1 a box! Let’s throw these out and just get new ones!!!” me yelling things like “I’m trying to make magical memories with you!!! Stop ruining Christmas!!!”. In the end when the dust and pine needles settle, we’ll have a tree, each other, and the excitement of another Christmas slowly approaching.