Lighting Up The Holidays

It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s snowy. You’re driving through downtown Lexington when suddenly you see eight giant trees ablaze with lights. “O Holy Night” is on the radio, and the moment is just about perfect.  That happened to me last Friday.  I was stuck in traffic–a mix of rush hour and mall mayhem--when I took a detour and saw the trees. The moment was so glorious that it made up for the lines at Walmart and the icy roads.

I love Christmas lights. So does my husband. One year he put 1,400 lights (the little ones) on a seven-foot douglas fir. It was spectacular. This year we went to an artificial tree, but it’s still loaded with lights including some of our oldies.  We have bubble lights, light-up figures and ice globes in addition to 600 small white lights.   

Christmas tree lights (electric ones) go back to 1882 and the New York home of Edward Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb. Johnson lived in one of the first neighborhoods to have electricity, and he used it to light up the Christmas tree in his parlor.  The tree was the talk of the town.

Here’s how it was reported by The Detroit Post and Tribune:

“Last evening I walked over beyond Fifth Avenue and called at the residence of Edward H. Johnson, vice-president of Edison’s electric company. There, at the rear of the beautiful parlors, was a large Christmas tree presenting a most picturesque and uncanny aspect. It was brilliantly lighted with many colored globes about as large as an English walnut and was turning some six times a minute on a little pine box. There were eighty lights in all encased in these dainty glass eggs, and about equally divided between white, red and blue. As the tree turned, the colors alternated, all the lamps going out and being relit at every revolution. The result was a continuous twinkling of dancing colors, red, white, blue, white, red, blue—all evening.”

It took time for the use of electricity to become widespread, so electric lights didn’t become popular until the early 20th century.  The first lighted trees where generally town affairs and were quite expensive, in part because the lights had to be hand wired.  It wasn’t until 1903 that GE began selling pre-assembled light kits.  They cost was approximately $8 for an eight-light strand, roughly the equivalent of a week’s salary.

Christmas tree lights took off in the 1920s and 1930s, and the industry has been evolving ever since. Lighted figures were popular in the 1950s. The ones that are still around are preserved by collectors who use dimmers to keep them from burning out. (We’ve got a dimmer on our tree to for that purpose.)  Ice globes were popular in the 1960’s. We’ve got a few of those and they’re lovely.

Christmas tree lights are ever-changing. The new LCD ones are energy efficient and extremely vivid.  I like them a lot.  Maybe next year we’ll add a little tree with just LCDs.  Then there are the fiber-optic trees that change colors. I have mixed feelings about them, but I can watch them change colors for hours, especially if there’s Christmas music in the background.

Merry Christmas, everyone!  If you have a tree up, what kind of lights do you use?

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15 thoughts on “Lighting Up The Holidays”

  1. Can’t believe you have those bubble lights, Vicki. I remember those from when I was a very little girl, and I’m older than dirt. So much fun to watch. Great blog about Christmas lights.
    I love real trees but since I live alone and would have to haul one on my small sedan and drag it in and out, I’ve gone to a fake one (I burn pine candles for the scent). This year I tossed out my 20-year-old lights and got a set of the new LED lights. They’re nice and I feel good about the energy they’re saving.
    Have a lovely holiday everyone.

  2. Hi Elizabeth, The bubble lights are a family favorite. In the next few years we’re going to go LED for the outside of the house. We have them in the back and I love how they glow.

    Back to the kitchen… today’s list includes baking a cheesecake, cooking the giblets for the tomorrow’s gravy, 40 tacos, rice, beans and something else . . . Oh! After tonight’s family fiesta, I’ll make the stuff for tomorrow’s turkey. Both of my sons are here for the holidays 🙂

  3. I never knew a few people had Christmas lights that early. I’m sure it was an amazing sight. I love driving around and looking at the beautiful homes all decorated in spendor. One of my favorite Christmas activities. I just have to say that I finally finished up my shopping yesterday. I thought I’d never get finished. The grocery store lines were horrible, but other than that not so bad. Today is my baking day also. I’ve got to make banana walnut bread for my neighbors and a batch of candy and cookies. That should keep me busy.

    Have a blessed Christmas!

  4. Wow, I had no idea electric Christmas lights were invented so early! They’re such common sights to us now I don’t think we can fully appreciate what a sensation they must have been to people who’d never seen such a thing before.

  5. My husband is a grinch when it comes to putting outside light up (too cold he says – bah humbug) so I always really lit up the inside and the windows. I get a huge live tree and last time we bought lights they had 5 different settings so you have your choice from colors to blinking, not blinking, different kinds of blinking – they’re great.

    I remember those bubble lights. My mom gave my older sister the last of them but I think they finally stopped using them because they were afraid they weren’t safe anymore lol.

  6. Hi Linda, I can just imagine how amazed people must have been by that first electrically lit Christmas tree. The thought of candles on trees always gives me hives! Enjoy the baking . . . I’m boiling turkey giblets. The cheesecake is done. Confession time, I just ate a bunch of peanut butter fudge. Yum!

  7. Hi Elisabeth! I was surprised too. I thought lights became popular in the 1920s or so. They’re still evolving, too. LEDs save a lot of energy. I wonder what lights will be like in 20 years?

  8. Hello Catslady! Your house sounds wonderful with all the inside lights. The five settings would definitely keep things lively. We got rid of some old, old Christmas tree lights a few years ago. Vintage or not, they spelled ‘f-i-r-e.’ They just didn’t look safe and they probably weren’t. Live trees are my favorite, especially big ones!

  9. Thanks for a fun post – I didn’t realize Christmas lihts were around that early. One of my most cherished memetos from my grandmother is a tabletop artifical tree that had built-in bubble lights. I can remember as a child staring at that thing for hours on end and thinking how beautiful and magical it was. And it still works today!

  10. Hi Winnie! Your grandmother’s table-top tree sounds lovely! Find replacements for the bubble lights isn’t easy, but it can be done. I found them at if you ever need a spare. Have a Merry Christmas!

  11. My son does the lighting at our home and, boy, does he go all out! I have no idea how many lights there are on our Christmas tree. It’s a real one and beautiful. And our yard is fantastic with huge lit-up wreaths around all four front windows, lights in the flower beds, lights in the trees, lights outlining the entire yard, lit-up garland around the front door, etc. Having an electronics engineer for a son pays off at Christmas. He uses LED lights. I keep telling everyone who praises our yard at Christmas that if my son marries and moves out, I will put a wreath on the front door and call it quits. LOL

  12. Our house is torn up at the moment, so I doubt we’ll get a tree up. If I can get to it, I have a little 2 ft. tree that we can put out. I’ll see how far I get tomorrow. Hopefully by next year We’ll be able to have our Victorian tree in the parlor and the other little trees in the other rooms. We use primarily the little fairy lights on our tree. I have some of the older strings of lights from the 50’s and 60’s but don’t trust them. My husband wants to switch to the new LCD bulbs. Maybe I’ll buy a bunch on sale after Christmas.

    Hope you have a Wonderful Christmas and a great 2011.

  13. Hi Vicki,
    Loved your post. I had no idea that electric Christmas lights went back that far! Very interesting!!!! My husband doesn’t do the outside anymore–we used to when the kids were little. I couldn’t find my lights this year–I have a prelit tree, but I always want the old 7v strings on there, too–NOMA, or some such brand. Anyhow, couldn’t find them, so I went and bought some new ones, but had to get the LCD bulbs that change from red to green. They’re nice, but I still want the other kind. I found them after we’d decorated the tree. Next year I’ll use a combination. Oh, the only other lights I have are a lighted garland down the banister of the stairs.
    I love those bubble lights–my sister used to have some of those.
    Have a wonderful Chrismtas!
    Cheryl P.

  14. Hi Gladys! Your house sounds AWESOME! Wreaths in windows are so pretty, and I love yards with lights on trees. It’s a huge effort to do the outside, but it sure brightens up the holidays.

  15. Hi Patricia, We were in the middle of moving last year, so we put up a tiny tree with white lights and 12 ornaments. It was really sweet. This year we’re back to full power and it’s really nice. Sometimes a year off makes the next year even sweeter. Enjoy!

    Hi Cheryl P! Lighted garland looks great on a banister. The new LED lights really appeal to me. They’re subtle but bright. Very cool!

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