A Christmas Tree Tangle

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Some years ago... seven?  eight?  We purchased an artificial Christmas tree.  My wife’s sinuses were regularly aggravated when we brought in a “live” tree, and my wallet was offended at the relatively costly expense for a disposable product at a time of year in which money is in high demand.

We found a (fake) Fraser tree that we liked.  Good height at 7.5’, great width, a lot of limbs, sufficient body and spacing to allow a multitude of ornaments in various sizes, and a 50% after-Christmas discount (as I recall).

And, it was pre-lit.  Clear bulbs.  1,100 of them, with at least 15 strands. It’s a serious electrical load.


And then came the objections. Kids you know.  “It doesn’t smell as good.”  Correct.  “I like colored lights.”  White is a color.  “It’s just not the same.”  Blah blah blah.

After the first Christmas using it, it struck me that the likelihood of this thing working the following year was pretty dim (pun accidental but acceptable).  The tree disconnects in three sections.  You fold the limbs, and you put the sections back in the box from which it came for year-long storage.


That’s the goal anyway, because these things take up quite a bit of space.  So, you squeeze it down a bit, you put it in the box, the box tears at the corners, the walls swell as if pregnant, you close the flaps as far as they’ll allow, then you step astride the box, sit on the flaps and squeeze with your thighs.  Okay, you could probably do something less perverse sounding, but flipping it on its side and standing on it is more likely to damage it.

The box, of course, does not return to original square angles, but, all said, with a little effort, it’s nothing short of a miracle to get the rascal back in.  Flip the box on end, place the flaps against the wall so that they can’t open... done.

And each year, repeat.

This can’t be a very caring practice for the strands of lights.  I have ample experience of working with lights for decorating the outside of the house that have not been abused nearly to that extent.  And they often don’t work.  So, crushing them within a box year after year can’t be a good thing.

Eventually, a strand of lights doesn’t work.  Wait, now it does.  Then it doesn’t, again.  You try to fiddle with some bulbs, but... there are so many, you don’t know which lights are on the same strand.  Aside from that, the metal limbs are actually quite pokey, and they scrape and puncture your arms and hands as you try.  It’s just not worth it.

Fast forward.  Two strands don’t work.  No, make that three after the tree is decorated.  Thanks.  You dress it up with a couple of extra strands of red lights.  Not bad... sort of a candy cane look.  It’ll do for this year.  But you know it’s just going to get worse.

So, what do you do?  Toss it and buy another?  I can’t find a 7.5’ 1,100 light tree on Google.  There’s a 12’ one.  Or I can buy a skinny 7.5’ tree with up to 500 lights.   It’s not the same, plus these things cost hundreds of dollars. 

Why don’t I just remove all the lights?

So I do just that.  It takes two evenings, and it’s quite the tangle.  The wires pride themselves on getting snagged on mini-branches, after all.  So, wire clippers definitely help to section a strand in 2’ or so lengths for easier removal.  (Safety advice: wear long sleeves and gloves that allow dexterity).

But I have an engineering degree. And I’d always been curious how these things were put together.   The only clasps were wire bands around the leads around the trunk, and then there are small plastic clips adjacent to just the lights near the ends of tree branches. 


They’re hard to see unless you get up close.  I’d never even noticed them before.  These, too, are easier to snip than to persuade off of each limb.  The process takes time, but ultimately the pieces fill two trash bags.  On the “green” side of things, I do net one usable extension cord that was wired onto the trunk of the tree.  Go me.

So I try to imagine the manufacturing process behind these things.  And for that matter, the squishing of sections so that they fit in the shipping box. What manner of machine might do this?  I come up empty. 

Don’t know something?  Google it.


So I have to imagine that they’re done manually, and the mystery of how they’re lit, folded and placed into the box will remain a mystery.

But I’m satisfied.  I have a quite usable tree that can be decorated with a variety of colors to make a particular kid happy, and, although I didn’t fathom the manufacturing secrets, I did find some help on another manufactured product.


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