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?