The annual tradition of holiday lights seen on trees and homes has not always produced the perpetual glow they do now. As early as the 1700s people started chopping down trees a few days before Christmas and placing candles on the limbs. They attached them using melted wax or a pin, similar to a clothespin. The fear and risk of fire was so prevalent that they would only leave the candles lit for a short period of time, with a bucket of water nearby. There was no timer to set or the ability to let them glow all night and day. Instead, it was for brief periods of time, usually at night and during gift opening. It was this way until Thomas Edison introduced the first string of exterior holiday lights in 1880. He strung them across his compound that was near a rail station. Rail passengers were in awe of this display, and soon many wanted a strand or more of their own.
It is said that a few years later, Edward Johnson, under Edison’s supervision, created a strand of 80 tiny bulbs. By 1890, these were mass produced but still limited in who could use them. First, there needed to be electricity to run them, and second, they were still quite costly. So, much of their displaying was done in department store front windows, government buildings, and homes of the affluent.
Even as their popularity continued to rise, so did the increase of fire danger. People either did not operate them correctly, had a tree that dried out too soon, or both. Regardless, there were many more fires and insurance companies began refusing to pay claims if they were related to holiday lights. This opened the door for advancement and invention. This led to the Sadacca brothers starting a company in 1925 to produce and manufacture safe holiday lights. This also meant that they became more affordable for the average family. And by the 1950s suburban streets were aglow with homes and trees filled with this yuletide cheer.
As technology made holiday lights safer, it has also made way for imagination. As these lights became smaller, people started to incorporate them into new things not done before. Long gone are the days of the strands only being used on the Christmas tree. Now they are used in wreaths, centerpieces, on mantles, across the ceiling in a room, and many more places. Their exterior appearance has also changed as novelty lights have become quite popular in recent years.
What are some variations of lights available for purchase? There are swag strands that typically feature a combination of three strands, icicles with different variations including the use of LEDs, and nets which are perfect for shrubs, just to mention a few. In regards to the novelty strands, the options are seemingly endless, featuring flamingos, or surfing Santas, palm trees, country snowmen, and nearly everything else in between. Even sports fans can have a strand or more of their favorite team illuminated during game time to show some team spirit.
When it comes time to add some Christmas cheer, it is easy to understand why people choose to do so with bright and festive illumination.