A Brief History of Christmas Lights

Have you ever thought about a time, in the dim and distant past, when there were no such things as Christmas lights? What it would have been like in the days when the children would have been stumbling around in the dark if they were up and trying to find their presents at 3 am? It must have been so nice to get to stay in bed for those extra few hours.

In this article we’re going to have a brief look at how Christmas lights have become part of our tradition, and how they’ve spoiled our ability to stay in bed past 5.30 am on a Christmas morning.

As you may be aware, the first functional light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison back in 1879, but, surprisingly, it wasn’t actually used as a Christmas light until 1882. Of course, part of the reason for the slow up take of the Christmas light was the fact that not every home had electricity at that time, so the number of creative people who could put them to some sort of use was limited.

The first known person to put it to that use was Edward Johnson. Johnson was an associate of Edison, and his home was located in a part of New York that had an electrical supply in the early days.

Word of Johnson’s illuminated Christmas tree first reached the world when it was reported in “The Detroit Post and Tribune”.  It seems the tree was lit with colored globes that were said to be the size of “an English walnut”. The whole tree turned, and as it turned the eighty lights would switch off and on again.

The tree turned six times per minute, and that gave the impression of the lights twinkling in a red, white, blue, white, red, and blue sequence.

A promotional brochure, published by Thomas Edison in 1890, appears to make the first reference to Christmas lights being available to buy, and it gives a few ideas on how they would look if you were to place them among flowers and garlands, as well as in pride of place on the Christmas tree.

There we have it; a brief history of Christmas lights.

In the 120 years since that brochure was first published, Christmas lights have become standard when decorating for the Christmas holidays. Since those early days the colors and shapes of lights have changed. The lights now ‘twinkle’ without having to move the actual tree, and we can put as many as we want on because of the reduced size allowed by technological advances in the bulbs being used.

You may have mixed feelings about them, but there’s no getting away from it, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without Christmas lights.

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