At this time of year, I’m often asked how we install the tree, which is some 30 feet high and quite heavy, and I thought it is time to reveal some of the secrets!
The tree is delivered on the Friday afternoon, the day before the last Saturday before Christmas Eve and it is installed the following morning. If you’re at St Mary’s on that Friday afternoon, you’ll see the tree lying in the north aisle.
On the Saturday, having moved all of the furniture below the chancel steps, a team of 4 or 5 move the tree to the top of the nave with the bottom of the tree next to the chancel steps and the top between the pews at the top of the nave. Now, we apply some science! Using two pulleys, one fixed near the top of the tree and one on the organ loft, we can thread a rope through the pulleys and down the nave. The use of the pulleys allows just two people to walk the rope down the nave towards the west door. As they do so the tree is lifted off the floor, pivoting on its bottom end. Once the tree has been lifted a little so that it is at an angle to the floor, we tie it in position so that we can put the lights and baubles on the top half of the tree. Experience has shown that with so tall a tree, it is not possible to decorate it from the ground nor from the organ loft once it is vertical! Then we put a metal dustbin around the base. The tree will sit in this dustbin once the tree is vertical.
Before we put the lights on the tree, they are checked to be sure that they work. About 1000 lights go on the tree and they are LEDs these days and so, thankfully, if one fails the rest still work. For the last two years, we have had the help of our “Lighting Engineers” who check out these low voltage lights. This year they connected them all together, we have 12 separate lengths of lights, and laid them out down the North Aisle starting at the pulpit, across the back of the church and up the South Aisle to the South Altar. It was a novel way of testing the lights, which showed very clearly the length of the lights that go on the tree.
Once the top half of the tree is decorated, it is lifted fully vertical and the top tied off on the organ loft and the bottom to the chancel screen. The dustbin is filled with sand and then decorated with gold or red paper. Now comes the tricky job of decorating the rest of the tree, the top of the bottom half of the tree is still quite high and we keep a very long cane topped with a metal hook next to the Choir Vestry door to help with the high branches. Getting the baubles to stay in place isn’t always easy but after a few fall off and bounce down the aisles, we check the lights again and we’re done.
There’s always a good team who help to install the tree and/or dismantle it later and this year the team was Tim Game, Mat and Greg Lester, Kevin Halsall and David Shephard. And our “Lighting Engineers”? None other that Peter and Isaac Game. Thank you all for your help and demonstrating that the appliance of science really can make a difference!
Finally, a number of photographs showing the process described above can be seen below which you might find interesting.