The lighting up of the Christmas tree has been a holiday tradition since the very first tree was decorated indoors, at least as far as we know. Of course up until the 1930’s the lighting of the Christmas tree included the use of real fire and candles. Naturally, this wasn’t the safest practice, placing a lit flame only centimeters from a rapidly drying evergreen tree. When electric lights came along, it didn’t take long for the public to fully embrace them, at least not once they became affordable.
The actual inventor of the first Christmas tree lights is mildly disputed. An associate of Thomas Edison and an inventor named Edward H. Johnson is credited with the creation of the first Christmas lights, although some actually credit Thomas Edison with the invention stating that Edward H. Johnson merely made the request for Christmas lights. Either way, somewhere between their two minds, Christmas lights came to be.
Just like every other new and modern technological advancement, Christmas lights were really quite expensive when they first hit the market. The local newspapers did not want to print anything about these new Christmas lights, citing that it was all just a big publicity stunt conjured up by the two inventors. However, the more progressive Detroit newspaper sank its teeth into the story and Christmas lights would have been the newest, and much safer, rage of the year. Being cost prohibitive, however, they were simply admired by onlookers at the home of Edward H. Johnson. He was quickly nicknamed the Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights and continued his practice of lighting up his Christmas tree for the remainder of his life.
The following year, businesses were heavily attracted to the idea of lining their storefront windows with these new lights. The original set on Edward. H. Johnson’s tree were large red, white, and blue solid lights. Businesses wanted something different, and orders were placed for variations of the original red, white, and blue which included solid white. Grover Cleveland proudly displayed the very first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House in 1895.
From 1900 until 1930, Christmas lights were merely a business phenomenon. With the exception of a few wealthy individuals, Christmas lights were not used in homes. Just like every other newfangled electronic gadget on the market, the price began to fall and more and more households were making the switch from candle lit Christmas trees to their very own personalized order of electric Christmas tree lights. Initially, these lights were only used indoors until someone in San Diego in 1904 the first outdoor tree was dangled in lights. New York caught up in 1912. The small town of McAdenville, North Carolina was given the “official” credit for creating the tradition of stringing outdoor lights around evergreen trees in 1956. However, this is widely disputed as several other towns and instances were recorded that same year.
The birth of Christmas lights has quite obviously led to the tradition we see and know today. People spend anywhere from hours to months stringing their Christmas lights, entering lighting contests, and wandering through lighting wonderlands. Christmas lights illuminate the darkest month of the year with joyful exuberance and creative expression that can really make a difference. It’s fabulous to take a late evening walk in December with the homes and businesses so intricately decorated and lit up beyond imagination. Nothing states Christmas spirit quite like a neighborhood of elegantly decorated homes with tasteful Christmas light strewn elegantly about.
Of course, with the decision to put up Christmas lights, one has to recognize the importance of taking them down. If one can not be bothered to take down their Christmas lights until mid-July, perhaps they ought to reconsider putting them up at all. Some residential areas have actually passed ordinances requiring Christmas lights be removed by late January.
Christmas lighting has become an art form for some people. Often contests can encourage people to become highly participatory in the practices of tree lighting. Months of hard work and hundreds to thousands of dollars later, masterpieces against the dark sky illuminate sometimes an entire city block. There is only the limits of the imagination when it comes to lighting up a tree or a home for Christmastime.