At Christmas time, my father usually assumed the Scrooge role. He did not come right out and “bah humbug” everything, but he wasn’t exactly Mr. Holly Jolly either. Back then, I did not understand why he exhibited this behavior each year. Maybe it’s the role that someone in every family needs to adopt so there is at least one individual who is attempting to balance the Christmas extravagance and keep it on even keel.
My father assumed this role, but come to think of it, it was a bit camouflaged. I watched him get as excited as anyone when he opened a gift he was especially hoping to get. Then too, he always made an effort to buy my mother something special and hope beyond hope that it would meet her approval, or at least her size.
Up front, Dad kept his good Christmas tidings well hidden. Everyone knew they would eventually leak out from under his scowl, usually hastened when he opened the annual gift of a fine bottle of scotch. Once I learned the root of his Christmas doldrums, I realized why it consumed him much of the holiday season. It was the tree lights that did it. He, like me now, was the person charged with putting the lights on the Christmas tree. He hated it. Years later, I hate it.
Putting lights on a Christmas tree is really work designed for a specialist. There should be tree lighters for hire this time of the year. Maybe four or five tree lighters should be sitting on a bench everywhere they sell Christmas trees. After you pick out the tree you want and the scrungy mountain man with the scrubby beard and cigarette butt wedged between his lips revs up the chain saw and cuts off the bottom inch of the truck—well, then you should be able to go over to the tree lighters’ bench and pick one out. “I’ll take him,” I’d say, pointing at the little elfy dude with the Santa cap dangling down the side of his head.
Then, after the tree is jammed into the trunk or lashed to the car roof, the little elf guy would hop in the back seat and go home with you. There, he’d unpack the lights from last year. He would solve the puzzle of why some strings don’t work despite your testing each one before you packed them away last Christmas. Next, like a Broadway stage technician, he’d feed the strings of lights onto the tree, layering each one perfecting from deep inside to the outer reaches of the fine pine needles. Oh, the glory of watching someone else who has the appropriate skills to artfully accomplish the annual tree lighting task. How magnificent that would be.
Nowadays, you can actually buy a nice phony Christmas tree with the lights already installed. My father would have liked one of those. Not only would he have enjoyed the simplicity of simply putting the two or three sections together and then plugging it in—he’d no doubt have spent a few moments examining the engineering of the structure and think about ways to improve it.
If my mother had not taught me that I would burn in hell if I ever had anything but a REAL tree for Christmas, I would almost consider buying a fake, pre-lit version. It is tempting and even though Mom is not here for any more Christmases, I just know if I ever put up a phony tree she would somehow find out and I would pay a heavy penalty. Mothers can do that, even after they are gone.
Well, the tree is up. The lights are on. Soon the family arrives and we begin the annual gifting of presents beyond our budgets and the gorging of stomachs beyond our belts. It’s all good, I suppose. But, as my father did, I must assume the Scrooge role, at least for a short while. I earned it. I put the lights on the tree.
I hope your lights went on easily this year and that many bright ones will light your pathway to lots of love and happiness over the holidays and into the coming New Year.
Marc Kuhn is the author of three books. Recently published is an adult historical novel, THE POPE’S STONE. The other two books are for children: NEVER GOOSE A MOOSE…And a bunch of other things you should never do!; and ABOUT A FARM, lessons for life regardless of where you live.
All three books are available at amazon.com and each has its own .com website under its title.