37. Christmas Lights
It’s only fitting, perhaps, that along with the magic of Santa Claus at
Christmas, holiday and Christmas lights also came about through the work of a
wizard – the Wizard of Menlo Park in New Jersey – as Thomas Edison was called.
It was Edison who first developed and demonstrated an incandescent electric
light bulb in 1879 that had commercial potential, an event that led the way for
the mass use of electricity and lights on Christmas tree as used today.
Before the discovery and use of electricity, candles were used to light
Christmas trees. That practice evolved into having glass covers with candles
inside them or metal lanterns that had small wicks. These were hung like
ornaments on Christmas trees. But even after Edison invented the incandescent
electric light bulb, it took many years before the large-scale manufacture of
Christmas tree lights were available commercially.
It is said that the idea of Christmas lights came from one of Edison’s
assistants, Edward Johnson. In 1882, Johnson had Christmas tree bulbs made
specially for him. He displayed these electric bulbs on his Christmas tree at
his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City and it drew widespread attention. But
Christmas tree lights underwent many changes and improvement before General
Electric Co. introduced Christmas lights on a commercial scale. As an example,
among the earlier lights used on Christmas trees were night-lights that were
strung together to make light strings. After the commercial introduction of
Christmas lights, sales and wide-scale use of them soared.
Decorative mini-lights to be used for Christmas tree lighting were introduced in
the 1970s. Since then, they have continued to be popular and are the dominant
types of Christmas tree lights in the marketplace. Before that, icicle lights
were introduced as decoration for rooflines. Those decorative lights are the
most popular ones used for outdoor landscape lighting during the holidays.
Outdoor decorative lighting has evolved from Christmas tree lighting to also
become a popular way to use colorful lighting during the holidays to create
Another development in decorative lighting at Christmas time is the use of
candles. Real candles can be used, but electric candles became more popular and
safer because they present less threat of a fire hazard. Today that threat has
also decreased with the development of flameless battery candles. The battery
operation also makes their use more flexible because they can be placed in areas
where there aren’t electrical outlets. Candles are usually displayed at several
windows of a house during the holidays. They produce an appealing look
especially if there are at least two sets of three windows each other where they
can be placed.
Battery-operated candles can also be used during Christmas and the holidays for
other activities such as caroling, church services, school activities and for
other holiday arrangements around the home.
As Christmas lights have become a mandatory feature of the holidays, they are
continually being used in new ways that differ considerably from their early
beginnings. Outdoor lighting is now just as common as indoor lighting and that
is an area in which a change in the use of holiday lighting can be seen. Along
with icicle lights that illuminate rooflines and frames of houses, there are
also lights that are placed in shrubs. Holiday lighting also comes in the shape
of trees and other ornaments that can be placed on lawn to enhance the visual
appeal during the holidays.
Many lawns are landscaped by lighting during Christmas and the holiday season
with lighted figurines and various other items associated with the season. In
some communities, entire blocks of streets will have such elaborate holiday lawn
lighting that they attract passersby and even tourists – residents from
elsewhere – who are captivated by the spectacular visual displays of the
landscaped holiday lighting.