Size doesn’t matter as long as there’s enough to go ’round.

Beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

It begins.  With a glass of egg nog.

This shit is the shit! Can't lose.

This shit is the shit! Can't lose.

The commercially-available stuff is non-alcoholic.  A bit of rum and advokaat would seal the deal nicely, though.

Following the European tradition for Christmas has a few differences.  We don’t put the tree up on the 1st of December, for one, which means we put it up around now, right in the middle of the Christmas rush when I should be out buying the presents for the distant step-grandmothers I never knew I had until some poor bastard decided to remarry and spring the news on us at the last minute.

Going to a Christmas tree farm, expecting to find a tree just perfect for our requirements is usually a challenge as a result.

Fortunately the obsession with trees too-big-to-fit-through-the-door seems to be confined to a select few Christmas obsessives such as myself.  I remember how magical it was to get a massive Christmas tree; I’d spend hours scanning the tree with my eyes, identifying all the decorations (and occasionally relocate a favourite few to my bedroom but this was quickly discovered as they were returned).  Of course, I never got to see the tree till Christmas eve and it was all fun and games to believe that some mystical force (i.e. the angels, allegedly) would decorate the damn thing in a closed off area of the house.  I had believed that if I were to even take a peak, something bad would happen and the tree would disappear and Christmas would be cancelled. As I, like any other child of only a few years of age who likes their free shit around Christmas time, obeyed.  Let me illustrate:

But mommy, I saw it with my own eyes!

But mommy, I saw it with my own eyes!

One day I had to come to grips with reality and the sad realisation that, just like that Easter Bunny, Christmas is in fact, just a commercially exploited holiday when people eat lots, spend lots of money to feed the economy and get drunk however I didn’t earn much money nor did I know what it was to be drunk at such a young age so I didn’t really get the point of it.  I still got free shit, though, so I didn’t complain.  An annoying side effect of this, however, is that trees won’t go and get themselves from the farm and magically call upon the mystical forces of the universe (i.e. the angels, allegedly) and decorate itself, too.  This all had to be done by hand and turns out to be a great deal of work.  Oh, and I apparently had to buy people presents, too! What a sham!

Picking the Perfect Stick Of Pine Needles

A not so beautiful tree stump...

A not so beautiful tree stump...

Christmas Tree side at farm

Beautiful, beautiful trees!

Before I continue, it occurred to me as I was uploading these photos that some people out there don’t like photos of tree stumps.  I can’t remember for the life of me who it was.  I took a wonderful photo of a tree stump once and this person, whoever the hell they were, didn’t appreciate it.  I hope I did a better job this time.

This one’s for you.  Merry Christmas.

So we start by arriving at a Christmas tree farm.  Sometimes it’s damn near 40 degrees out there in the field, so picking a tree can be a bit daunting.  Cool weather (and the urgency of predicted rain that never came, thank you weather guys). So we tell them we want something 8ft or bigger (last year’s was 10 but we decided that was a bit much) and the lovely chaps there point to the farthest part of the farm.  Well, we could use the exercise…

Things to look for: shape, dead branches, how strong the branches are, whether the trunk is straight, trunk width and whether it’s going to require a woodchuck to get it to fit in the stand

Down to the back paddock and we’re greeted with a world where everything looks the bloody same.

Christmas trees! So many choices...

Christmas trees! So many choices...

It all starts to look the same after a while so the important thing is to pick some good trees early on, build a shortlist and then pick the faults with them, otherwise it feels like I’m chasing my tail after a while.  We found three trees and got the decision made mighty fast because we left the sunscreen at home and skin cancer is not a nice Christmas present.  We got it narrowed down to one that we were all “happy” with…

Finally a perfect tree!

Finally a perfect tree!

So, we can already see from the above that we’ve got a gap at the top, trunk was a bit small (but this is better than a bit big for the stand, more on that later), mostly green, nice shape and branches are a bit thin.  The tree was straight – compared to other years, you get trees growing on a hill which really messes shit up.  There were also no bee hives or huntsman spider collections with this tree which is a certain plus (you think that nothing can live in a pine tree but believe me, those eight legged bastards seem to find a way).  It looked big enough so we took it.  Down comes a guy with a hacksaw and we’re the proud new owners of eight feet of pine needles attached to a bunch of sticks.

How the fuck do we get it home? Roof rack, fake rope magic and a tarp – this is to keep the pine needles and sap from the car and to make it easier to carry around.  Or this:

Snug as a bug in a rug!

Snug as a bug in a rug!

Yep.  It looks like some sort of child in a whatever the hell you call it.  Hell I don’t know. it’s a Christmas tree and it’s ready to roll.  That’s about 70 bucks worth of dead tree there, which isn’t bad value.  Some tree farms will try and sting you upwards of $100+ for that dead shit.  Don’t buy into their lies and propaganda – shop around.

Back home, the bastard goes in a bucket of water for a few hours.  This helps soak up some water into the trunk which helps keep the tree greener longer.  Some people actually place buckets of water underneath these trees to keep them green and smelling great throughout the Christmas period.  I’ve never done this.  The tree usually lasts fine until the 6th when it comes down.  Besides, the stand is metal and will probably drink as much water as the tree but turn it into rust instead.  And there are complications if a bucket of water were to come in contact with the cabling for the lights.

A thirsty tree!

A thirsty tree!

I’d show a photo of the tree leaning against the house but let’s face it, it’s boring as heck and you probably don’t care.  Time for some egg, a few hours of wasting time on the PC and it’s back into it.  Bringing the 8ft tree inside was easier than last year’s 10ft tree.  There is an upside to the drought after-all!

Because bringing a tree inside is rather boring to see, let’s skip right to the final picture:

Oh, shit.

Oh, shit.

Yeah, guess that didn’t go too well.  While the tree is actually stable (enough) at this angle as the stand is supporting it, the tree is actually not in the stand properly – one thing we didn’t watch for, and that was the distance between the lower branches and the bottom of the stand – so the tree is actually supported by these lower branches, which sadly had to go.

Look, it's a Christmas tree in a stand. I think that's obvious.

Look, it's a Christmas tree in a stand. I think that's obvious.

See that? It’s a Christmas tree stand and perhaps the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen.  It was made by a chap who owned a local Christmas tree farm but he since sold up and moved on.  These stands are never to be seen again.  The bolts are nice – they actually screw in to the trunk to prevent it from moving, creating a very stable fit.  This tree doesn’t fit in the stand very well – in previous years we’ve had trunks that don’t fit in the stand at all as they’re too big.  Branches, at this stage, were removed and the tree was stood up again and adjusted and it looks better now than it did before.

Next step, the lights.  There are five sets of lights on the tree this time.  Only one set had a dead globe:

Oh shi-

Oh shi-

Depending on how the lights are wired, some sets will stop working completely (making globe replacement fun as you have to practically look at each globe with a magnifying glass) or one globe will die and the rest of the globes will glow a little brighter, which in turn, places a greater stress n the globes and all of them will progressively fail faster.  Want to start a house fire? This is the way to do it.

Fortunately with 150 or so lights, it’s going to be fine.  This set has been used for many years like this but sadly we’ve been unsuccessful in locating a replacement globe.  We’ve thrown out the box they came in and I’m sure in the bottom of one of eight large decoration boxes we have, there’s a globe that will fit this set perfectly.

With that sorted, bring on the tree!

Lighty lights!

Lighty lights!

Much better (the blue light in the background is from the subwoofer).

Inside that wrapper is one of about eight different Pink Lady chocolate flavours!

Inside that wrapper is one of about eight different Pink Lady chocolate flavours!

Now things get a bit interesting.  With the lights on, the next step is to put some chocolates on the tree.  We follow the Hungarian tradition of using Szalon Cukor (take THAT, spelling checker!) which looks remarkably like the photo I took of an actual specimen hanging on the tree.  These are basically candies wrapped up in a decorative manner. The tradition involves wrapping them individually and then tying them together with string.  These then act as weights to bring the branches down in preparation for the decorations as once the heavy decorations go on the tree, the branches will slowly fall and the decorations will fall off again – which will inevitably be the most priceless valuable decorations we own.  Since we don’t follow the tradition to the letter, we replace the traditional home-made stuff with chocolates from Pink Lady because they taste better and it requires less effort.  So three kilograms of premium chocolates later, the tree is ready to stand for a while and prepare for the onslaught of decorations.

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