The Inconvenience of Pre-Strung Christmas Trees

In 2016, we decided to get a second Christmas tree for our lower level. Because I didn’t like putting on Christmas lights–every time I did, I put a corner of a mantel into my kidneys while winding or unwinding the Christmas lights, I thought we could get a pre-lit or pre-strung Christmas tree for our upstairs–and move the old tree downstairs.

Well, that was very easy. In 2017, when we put up the new pre-strung tree and plugged it in. All we had to do was put the ornaments on. Previously, it had been a two or three day process: Put up the tree, fluff it, string the lights, and decorate it. But the new process was essentially two steps and something we could do willingly in a day.

But that was then. 2018 was now. When we plugged in the tree, several sections of the tree were unlit. I spent an hour or so trying to identify the bulbs that burned out and knocked whole strands out, but ultimately I could not, and resigned myself to stringing additional lights in the dark zone before decorating it.

Then, after we got the ornaments on it, another section went dark. And remained dark because I would have had to fuss with the lights through the ornaments or lay a new strand of lights over the ornaments.

I was in the mood to pitch the thing (or donate it to a charity garage sale and let someone else fuss with it for a couple of dollars), but these lights were not embedded in the tree; they were strung on the tree. So if I took them off the tree, I would still have a tree for next year that I could string lights on. It seemed like a good, economical idea. Especially since I was not going to replace this tree with a prelit tree of any sort next year that I would essentially rent for a trouble- and hassle-free single Christmas.

So after I packed up the Christmas decorations and ornaments yesterday, I started on the lights. It was then that I discovered that:

  • Some individual lights were held on with individual clips, which meant I had to pop off the clip on each branch of the tree except
  • some lights, generally the ones at each side of a main branch, were zip-tied to the respective branches, so I had to carefully find the camouflaged zip ties and cut them without cutting too much of the branch or fake fronds with them and
  • The strings themselves were not individual lines; several times, the wires separated and went to the other side of the tree for some circuit reason that made sense to someone other than myself. So I would come to these Y intersections and cut one section of them, hoping I would find the other end of it eventually.

The total time to remove 600 lights and their clips and zip ties: Four hours.

Which I guess isn’t too bad. 600 lights removed in 4 hours is 150 lights an hour, or 2.5 per minute. But the metrics ultimately don’t make me feel better.

About the time I really, really came to regret the decision is same time I thought I was almost finished. The total elapsed time of really, really regretting my decision and thinking I was almost done itself was about two and a half hours. But once I get onto a task like that, I must finish no matter the cost in sanity or spending my entire day off messing with that tree.

Worst of all, as I was working, I couldn’t help think that somewhere in China, some young woman has to put the lights on these Christmas trees, several a day, or she’ll be fired and have to return to the provinces to eke out a living on a substinence-level farm. The perspective didn’t help.

You know, I read a lot of Buddhist Zen and mindfulness stuff, but I never really got into the zone of it while working on the Christmas tree because I was too busy resenting the task. Which was probably even unnecessary. Clearly, I was hanging too much onto my self and a preference to do something else with that time even if I didn’t know what that was.

Worst of all, it kind of felt like a recap that replayed my 2018: A simple task, expanding to fill all the available time and leaving me having done something without actually feeling a sense of accomplishment for it.

So next year, I will pull the our existing Christmas lights out of storage (not the ones from this tree, which I basically cut off and would never have figured how to get onto the tree again given their strange separations), I will test them before I put them on the tree, and the tree will be lit the old fashioned way: Over the course of days, and with many mantel pokes to my back which I will appreciate as I never have before.

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