1. The stupid box it comes in.
As soon as you dump the various sections of the tree out of the shiny, new box, you might as well throw the box away. You are never going to get all of the tree back in that box. And as the years go by, you will be able to stuff less and less of the tree into the issued receptacle. This means that the “too big” sections of the tree risk being shoved behind something in the attic and never being seen again. Sometimes the hand you’ve been dealt is just not enough. (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”)
I do find it highly illogical that what came out of the box will not go back in. It makes sense that it should. Somebody got the tree in there in the first place. Then again, that someone was a little worker in Artificial Tree Land, and this person stuffs trees in boxes all day long. Probably hundreds of them, with a cute little counter that dings merrily every time they seal a box, perhaps even a cookie is served for every five boxes. These workers are certified in tree-stuffing. There’s no way you can compete with that. (Me: “Doctor, I don’t know why I always feel like a failure.” Therapist: “Well, there was that one thing with the tree box…”)
2. The absence of assistance.
Your entire family can be lounging on the couch all day, watching pointless cooking shows where vibrant personalities whip up delicacies that no one in your house will ever make. But the second any family member gets a warning sign that tree assembly is afoot, every one of them will race out of the house, off to fake dental appointments or opting for that elective surgery after all. You will stagger down the attic ladder, the tree thumping behind you on each rung, to find a completely deserted house. Even the cat has gone on an impromptu sleepover with Tiffles the Tabby down the street. (Scotch the Cat: “Girl, can I crash at your place?” Tiffles: “Sure, honey. Give me ten minutes so I can make one of the servants change the litter box.”)
You are on your own. You will not see another soul until the advance scout hidden in the bushes of the neighbor’s yard has used his walkie-talkie to inform all family members that the coast is clear. (“Renegades, this is Honcho One. Subject appears to be nearing completion of the soulless task at hand, swilling from a bottle of vodka as he prepares to plug in the main power cord. Stand by to reclaim the domicile.”)
3. Things don’t fit where they should.
Stare at the little diagram all you want, but Point A will NOT fit politely into Ingress B no matter what you do or how much you proffer to Jesus during intense, sweaty negotiations. You will just have to use sheer force of will to ram the piece home, probably completely destroying any chance of the tree ever looking right again. It doesn’t matter. You just have to get through this session. Next year is a long way off. Perhaps there will be a divorce, and somebody else can deal with the violated tree. Or maybe a fire. A very concentrated fire that only destroys a certain bulging box. (Uncle Bucky: “What the hell are you doing up there in the attic with a propane torch?” Me: “Nothing.”)
4. The concept of “If one light goes out, the rest stay on!” is a complete and total lie.
This is merely an unsavory sales technique developed by retailers who just want to move the merchandise and don’t care what happens to you once your credit card has been swiped and approved. One of the lights WILL go out, somehow affecting most of the lights on the tree, even though there are theoretically 20 separate strands on this thing. It will take you 7 hours to find this elusive bulb, mainly because you keep losing your place and/or get so frustrated that you kick the tree against the wall, stomp off, break something in another room, then finally give in and shuffle back to The Room Where Satan Breathes, waving a white flag and starting the search all over again. (“I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me.”)
5. The best way to determine which dangling electrical cords still need to be connected to the power source is to lie under the tree and gaze upwards.
This is actually quite helpful, allowing you to see things from a new and exciting perspective. The negative aspect is that, once you pass a certain age, you may not be able to get back out from under the tree and resume a standing position for some time. My advice is to take a bottle of water and a pillow before you head down under. You might be there for a while. (“Dear Diary, it’s been three days since I’ve seen daylight…”)
6. One miniscule turn-screw in the tree stand supposedly will keep the tree perfectly aligned.
Another lie. Adjust all you want, loosening and turning and tightening. The tree is never going to stand up without a discernible lean. Accept your fate now. Delaying acknowledgment of your inevitable alignment failure only increases the chances of an adverse psychological reaction. You still have shopping to do, and you don’t have time for therapy or possible court cases resulting from you throwing the tree out the picture window, accidentally nailing the UPS guy innocently arriving at your dwelling bearing a box of Aunt Esther’s Peanut Fudge. (Prosecuting Attorney: “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, the security-camera video I am about to show you may be shocking in nature…”)
Just tighten the screw all the way, and then rotate the tree until the angle of the lean is the least offensive. If necessary, hang the heavier ornaments on the side of the tree that is opposite the lean, creating an optical illusion that will hopefully satisfy your less-inquisitive relatives. Better yet, pay young nieces and nephews to stand inside the branches, hold the tree up straight, and not move an inch unless they see Santa. (Child Nephew #2: “I don’t want to do this, it’s stupid.” Me: “Oh? Do you want me to tell your momma what really happened the night the toilet exploded?” Child Nephew #2: “Am I holding this branch high enough?”)
7. No one is ever fully satisfied with the fluffing.
Yes, the tree has been mashed offensively during its 11 months in scorching confinement whilst crammed into the attic. You will have to do some repair work on the fake needles and smaller branches, even though there are thousands of them and reparative activities are only amusing for the first 3 needles or so. Do the best you can, but don’t overextend yourself in this area. It’s not a real tree. It will never pass inspection by Tree Survey people, should they stop by unexpectedly. (“Dude, that thing in your living room is a sacrilege.”)
Besides, no matter how much time you invest, there is going to be a gaping, unnatural hole somewhere on the tree. And this hole will be found by Aunt Flatulencia when she and her wrinkled nose stagger into the room, hopped up on brandied eggnog and rum cake. Just let her bellow whatever she wants and keep mopping up the apple juice carelessly spilled by one of your cousin-workers in the middle of the tree. (Sister Christian: “Brian, have you seen my children?” Me: “I wasn’t aware that you had any. Did I miss a memo?”)
8. It hurts.
Granted, “real” trees have those aggressive needles that will slice you to ribbons when you attempt limb adjustment. But the fake ones have their issues as well. (Paper needles can be sharp, people.) And if you have a mature tree that has survived several seasons of your devil-inspired chiropractic maneuvers, there are bound to be little clusters of overlooked ornament hangers that went undiscovered during the security clearance last year, just before you shoved part of the tree into the box that’s supposed to hold all of the tree and threw everything back in the attic. (Attic: “What have I done to deserve this?”)
These bits of twisted metal can lacerate an entire hand in a few seconds of stunning savagery. Proceed carefully. If necessary, ask someone that you don’t really care for to do a safety inspection. (Distant Cousin Beulah, Meth-Lab Aficionado: “Why you want me to do that?” Me: “Because you’re used to doing things you shouldn’t.”)
9. The creatures of the night.
Most cats consider Christmas trees to be their personal playground, refusing to acknowledge stern warnings from you that unappreciated feline merriment could result in a severe adjustment of treat privileges and continued living. Your furry children may pretend to behave whilst you are in the vicinity, but they will immediately launch at the tree the second your footsteps seem to be fading away. For a cat, there are just too many sparkly and dangly things for them to ignore. (“It’s like acid on a Sunday morning!”)
Nighttime is the worst. Things crash loudly and bizarre events take place. You may wake in the morning to find that the Baby Jesus is missing from the manger scene, replaced by a small ransom note with the imprint of a cat paw. (“This is payback for not getting treats when I want them.”)
10. You will not be fully appreciated for your efforts.
Once you finally have the tree in order, covered in scratches and dripping sweat, don’t expect a round of applause. Your older children might find the strength to utter “cool” while they continue texting with someone named Boner. Younger children will immediately race to the tree and destroy three of the most delicate and memory-filled ornaments, not understanding that this isn’t what they are supposed to do. (“But Mommy, you made me beat on that pinata for my birthday. Isn’t this the same thing?”)
And your significant other? Well, as is written somewhere, if you put up the tree, then your spouse is most likely a Grumpy Christmas Person. (Rarely do two Happy Christmas People end up in couples, because that would be too much Hyperactive Yuletide Perkiness in one room for anyone to bear.) So, don’t be surprised if your partner doesn’t even notice that there is now a dead tree where there wasn’t one just a few hours ago. (“Why did the electric bill go up this month?”)
But it doesn’t matter. The tree is up and all is good. Now go sample some of that brandied eggnog so you can be prepared when the news comes about the abduction of the Baby Jesus….
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 12/13/10 and “Bonnywood Manor” on 12/25/13 and 12/02/16. Modified and extended somewhat for this post. Disclaimer: No actual children were forced to do anything they didn’t want to do during the creation of this post. Swear. (Child Nephew #2: “That’s a lie!” Uncle Brian: “Two words: exploding toilet.” Child Nephew #2: “I guess I could hold this fake tree up a little while longer.” Uncle Brian: “Thought so.”)