Ah Yes, it is that time of year again. Time for the over commercialization of hopes and dreams, time for the narcissist in all of us to rear its ugly head, time for that annual machine gun of anxiety attacks to besiege us every one. Yes indeed folks, its CHRISTMAS time again. I would like to stem this tide of heart attack inducing, mind numbingly tedious and over blown traditionalism with a small ray of sunshine, or perhaps a better description would be a small twinkle of brilliance, there that’s better. Christmas lights my friends, today’s blog is all about Christmas lights.
Let us examine the origins of Christmas lights. The Christmas tree and lights are both Nordic/Germanic (Pagan) traditions. That may or may not shock the standard bearing Christians that may read this. The original tradition revolved around the shortening of daylight hours in winter and involved a feast, and like a large number of things in Christianity, when a culture of people were assimilated by Christianity so to did their customs and traditions. The tradition of using small candles to light up a tree dates back to at least the middle of the 17th century. However, it took two centuries for the tradition to become widely established, first in Germany and soon spreading to Eastern Europe.
Candles for the tree were glued with melted wax to a tree branch or attached by pins. Around 1890, candleholders were first used for Christmas candles. Between 1902 and 1914, small lanterns and glass balls to hold the candles started to be used. The first known electrically illuminated Christmas tree was the creation of Edward H. Johnson, an associate of inventor Thomas Edison. While he was vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company, a predecessor of today’s Con Edison electric utility, he had Christmas tree light bulbs especially made for him. He proudly displayed his Christmas tree, which was hand-wired with 80 red, white and blue electric incandescent light bulbs the size of walnuts, on December 22, 1882 at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Local newspapers ignored the story, seeing it as a publicity stunt. However, it was published by a Detroit newspaper reporter, and Johnson became the Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights. By 1900, businesses started stringing up Christmas lights behind their windows. Christmas lights were too expensive for the average person. Electric Christmas lights did not become the majority replacing candles until around 1930. In 1895, U.S. President Grover Cleveland proudly sponsored the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House. It was a huge specimen, featuring more than a hundred multicolored lights. The first commercially produced Christmas tree lamps were manufactured in strings of multiples of eight sockets by the General Electric Co. of Harrison, New Jersey. Each socket took a miniature two-candela carbon-filament lamp.
From that point on, electrically illuminated Christmas trees, but only indoors, grew with mounting enthusiasm in the United States and elsewhere. San Diego in 1904 and New York City in 1912 were the first recorded instances of the use of Christmas lights outside. McAdenville North Carolina claims to have been the first in 1956. The library of congress credits the town for inventing the tradition of decorating evergreen trees with Christmas lights dates back to 1956 when the McAdenville Men’s Club conceived of the idea of decorating a few trees around the McAdenville Community Center. However, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has had “lights” since 1931, but did not have real electric lights until 1956. Furthermore, Philadelphia’s Christmas Light Show and Disney’s Christmas Tree also began in 1956. Though General Electric sponsored community lighting competitions during the 1920s, it would take until the mid 1950s for the use of such lights to be adopted by average households.
Over a period of time, strings of Christmas lights found their way into use in places other than just Christmas trees. Soon, strings of lights adorned mantles and doorways inside homes, and ran along the rafters, roof lines, and porch railings of homes and businesses. In recent times, many city skyscrapers are decorated with long mostly-vertical strings of a common theme, and are activated simultaneously in Grand Illumination ceremonies.
Now that the history lesson is over, let’s think about our own towns and streets. It makes my heart nearly jump out of my chest when I drive by a home with lights brightly gleaming in the window, or better still, adorning the outside of the house. Take all the bad things about Christmas, not the least of which is the lack of time we all seem to have, and balance them with the beauty and simplicity of tiny twinkling Christmas lights. Weather you are in an apartment or a mansion, a few well placed Christmas lights can warm the soul and deliver hours of wonderment to children and adults alike.
To those of you that brave the elements with ladder and staple gun in hand and make the world a better place with your Christmas lights, I SALUTE you. I hope everyone enjoys the season, and stays safe. Take a drive this weekend and check out your neighbor’s hard work and try to enjoy one of the last simple pleasures in life.