THIS AND THAT: Tree lights that work and lights that don’t

December 15, 2018

It wouldn’t be Christmas without some kind of tree issue.

Over the years there have been problems of all sort. There have been Christmas trees that toppled over after being decorated. There was a tree placed inside a playpen to keep it safe from the marauding hands of a busy 2-year-old. Precious ornaments have been knocked off by thirsty dogs.

Most of our trees have been of the natural variety as the family preferred the look, feel and smell from a Fraser fir. Sometimes we chose it from a lot that popped up on vacant land shortly after Thanksgiving. At other times we chose one from a stand of hundreds, watching it cut down on the spot and toting it home fresh from the farm.

There were times that we tied it to the top of a station wagon with the family of five inside the vehicle hoping the tree would survive the ride home. Other times we tossed the bundled tree in the back of an SUV and spent the next six months removing errant needles that managed to hide in every available crevice.

Years ago we purchased an artificial tree whose branches were color coded and had to be inserted one at a time in the proper place then fluffed up to make it appear real. That one didn’t last long.

Last year my wife and I decided to take the plunge and purchase a high-end tree with preinstalled LED lights. It was as simple as 1-2-3, the directions said. Insert the bottom portion of the tree into the stand that was included. Connect the middle portion to the bottom and then the top piece into the middle piece. Ready? Plug it in and the lights shone.

Not only did the lights shine, they could change. Since they were LEDs, they could glow white or, with the flip of a switch they could light up in various colors. They could be on all the time, blink, flash, sweep up and down and stack to provide a variety of options for the bold Christmas tree owner.

We paid big bucks (actually the bucks were all the same size, there were just lots of them) for this tree that we thought would last us for several years. And it was gorgeous when we quickly (just like the directions said) put it together and plugged it in. I was fascinated with the ability to change from white light to colors and tried out all the moving options. My wife gave me the look that simply meant, “White lights only and always on.”

After putting up the ornaments and sliding the tree into its corner, we decided it was the most beautiful one we had ever put up. When Christmas was over, we reluctantly took off the ornaments, separated the tree’s sections and put the parts into a huge cloth bag made specially for an artificial tree.

It sat on the garage floor, out of the way of foot traffic until the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I decided it would be wise to set up the tree to make sure that everything worked before we decorated.

After putting the tree’s sections together, I found the nearest wall socket, inserted the plug, clicked on the switch and watched as nothing happened. There were no lights turning on, not even a flicker. I tried again. Nothing. Once more. Dead.

The documents that came with the tree were sparse. There was no trouble-shooting guide, just the 1-2-3 and presto – lights – guarantee.

One of the pieces of paper said that the tree had a three-year limited warranty that required the original receipt for any exchange, but who keeps receipts? I do now.

A call to the number on one of the slips of paper I found with the tree gave me some hope. It was customer service from the company HQ of the store where we purchased the tree. With the date of purchase and the credit card number used, the helper was able to find the needed information.

Quickly the rep made a call to the artificial tree manufacturer, and in a three-way conversation I was able to describe the problem – the lights didn’t come on.

“Sounds like the transformer,” the manufacturer’s rep said. “We’ll send a new one. It will take one to two days to process and nine days to ship.”

Though skeptical of the solution, I thanked both customer service people. Then I started to calculate about those 10 or 11 days. It meant that the part – if it worked – would not arrive until after my wife’s annual dinner with her church circle. One of the highlights of her year she gets the house Christmas-worthy prior to the arrival pf guests.

The Christmas tree had to be decorated and lit before that day.

Mary Lou decided to put on the strings of lights that we used on our last live trees. Wrapping strand after strand around branches that already had non-working lights seemed a waste of time. But that is what had to be done. A trip back to the store was required to get additional lights. This is a big tree.

Finally, after much effort, she got the lights on and it did make a beautiful sight even if they were not the LEDs designed for the tree. With her circle party just days away, at least the problem of lights was taken care of. Then she went about placing the ornaments that have been acquired over the past 46 years.

Late on Friday afternoon she climbed up the stairs to rest after working hard on the tree. Meanwhile, I had been out front working on the outdoor lights when I intercepted the postman on his way to our mailbox. There was a Christmas card, catalog, request for money and a small package that I didn’t think anything of.

After completing my outdoor task, I opened the package and found the transformer had arrived early. Doubting that it was the real culprit, I nonetheless unscrewed the old one and replaced it with the item that had just arrived. I plugged it into the wall and was amazed that the brightly-lit tree was now shining brighter than ever. The transformer worked!

I went upstairs and told Mary Lou that there was good news and bad news. The tree fix came, and it worked. The bad news was that she had gone to all the trouble of putting up unnecessary lights.

After looking at the effect of the tree’s original lights combined with the strings that she had put up, my wife decided to leave things as they were. We now have the most well-lit Christmas tree that has ever graced our home.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all some bright lights.

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