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  • Writer's pictureJan Peterson

Ode to the Christmas Tree

I've always had this fantasy of decorating my Christmas tree in front of a roaring fire, with holiday music in the background, getting us all in a festive mood for the season. A slow, soft snowfall is blanketing the neighborhood. The dog has a big red bow around her collar. We are all wearing matching pajamas. My husband smiles adoringly at the children, while we drink hot cocoa and tell a story about each ornament we re-discover. We are the family right out of a Hallmark movie.

Then there's reality...

We try to cut a fresh tree each year and have visited a number of tree farms in the area. The kids are grown, but my daughter still likes to come home and help pick out the tree. The season starts out festive enough, until it's time to put up the tree.

My husband likes to put up the Christmas tree after December 15th and I like to put it up Thanksgiving weekend. As a compromise, we usually settle somewhere around December 10th and it stays up well after New Year's Day.

My husband likes to buy a huge tree, which we end up cutting down to fit in the door. After a lot of sawing and swearing taking place in the garage, we are finally ready to drag the tree in. Pine needles and sap make their way across the living room floor. The dog makes a break for the door and gets loose in the yard. I run after her screaming and slipping through the snow, while she decides it's a game of chase. Frustrated and wet, I finally recover her and return to the tree.

Now for the best part - stringing the lights. Each year my husband and I have a bit of a banter when putting lights on our Christmas tree. Over the years I've learned to buy an extra set of lights to start the following year. As we inspect the lights and inevitably find that there are some not working (they don't make them like they used to), I put the non-working strings aside and express my desire to use only the working ones. My husband grumbles at my wastefulness and insists on using even the non working lights. He promises to go through each string to find the culprit bulb. By January, he's finally given up, so when the tree comes down I sneak them into the trash without a word.

I always start the lights from the bottom and work my way up to the top. He always works from the top down. After 20 years of marriage - I've now let him win the argument - It's tough when you're married to God. We string the lights together, while I take note of every dead bulb. Each year when I Google the answer, its a toss up. Half of the videos on YouTube say "bottoms up" and the others "top down".

Once the half working lights are put on the tree, I remove them and go to work on the decorations (alone of course), while my husband retires to watch a football game. He is exhausted from getting into the holiday spirit! Bah Humbug!

All kidding aside, here are some "aha" moments when doing your tree.

  • If you are decorating a real tree, make sure the good side faces out. It's hard to get a live tree that is perfectly proportioned.

  • Always buy a few backup lights at the end of season for next year.

  • The rule of thumb is 100 lights for every foot of your tree - so for a 5 foot tree, you'll need 500 lights.

  • Test the lights before you start and jiggle them a bit so you know nothing is loose before it the strand goes on the tree.

  • If one bulb goes out, chances are the whole string will go out or not last through the season - so don't put it on the tree until the bad light is found.

  • Make sure all the lights match - so you aren't mixing warm and bright LED lights together.

  • Keep tucking the lights in and out of the branches so the inner and backside of the tree are lit.

  • Place the tree near an outlet and have an extension cord ready.

  • Keep stepping away from the tree, making sure the lighting is even and there are no lights bunched up together, or sparse in some areas.

  • Once the lights are on, string the garland next.

  • When using ornaments, make sure you are mixing sizes and elements of decorations.

  • Start with one type of ornament first and spread that one type around your tree, so you can space one element at a time more evenly. I always start with the largest sized ornament first and work my way down to the smallest sized ornament.

Enjoy getting in the spirit of the holiday!

"I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all, really.

Maybe it just needs a little love."

Linus Van Pelt from "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

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