The History of Christmas Lights

Dec 23, 2022 | Seasonal Fun

Christmas time is here, and many people decorate their home with Christmas lights, twinkly lights, illuminated Santa Clauses, and inflatable sleighs with spotlights on them, and sometimes A LOT of it. But have you ever looked at Christmas decorations and wondered how it started and how it got to where it is now? Then this article is going to be of particular interest to you as we dive into the history of Christmas lights and how they originated.


A Look into the History of Christmas Lights

When you look at all the wonderful displays we have these days, it’s hard to believe that Christmas lights started just as candles, but that is how it began in Germany in the 1600s when candles were affixed to Christmas trees. As you might guess, the candle-lit Christmas trees were an entirely different experience than we know today. The tree would be in the home’s central area, and the family would gather to see the candles lit for a few minutes before they were extinguished. In addition to being short-lived, the candles had another downside — fires. Regardless, over the next 200 years, it became an established practice that spread to other countries.


It wasn’t until 1882 when Edward Hibberd Johnson, the Vice President of Edison’s Electric Light Company, became known as the father of the electric Christmas tree. He set up a tree near a window in his New York home and decorated it with a string of 80, hand-wired red, white, and blue light bulbs. The lights caught the attention of people who stopped to gaze at the marvel. Johnson’s lights were ahead of their time since electricity was not yet available, but the idea began there and hasn’t stopped since.


By the mid-20th century, it became customary to decorate streets and buildings with Christmas lights, and the practice soon spread worldwide. Now, thanks to technological innovations, more than 150 million light sets are sold in America annually, illuminating more than 80 million homes while using 6% of the country’s electricity load every December. 


Important Moments in Christmas Light History

The history of Christmas lights is long and storied, with many significant events in the timeline that brought us to where we are today.


1660: The first recorded reference to placing candles on trees comes from Germany.


1747: The Pennsylvania Dutch introduced the “lichstock” — a large wooden pyramid lit by candles.


1832: Harvard professor Charles Follen decorated an evergreen with candles in what may be the first lighted Christmas tree in the U.S. 


1846: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert make candle-lit Christmas trees popular in the UK.


1879: Thomas Edison invents the first string lights.


1880: Thomas Edison patents the light bulb.


1882: Edward Johnson, a friend of Thomas Edison, displayed a Christmas tree that was hand-wired with 80 red, white, and blue electric incandescent light bulbs at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City, earning him the name “Father of the Electric Christmas Tree.”


1895: President Glover Cleveland has the first White House Christmas tree to have electric lights.


1900: Department stores begin to use Christmas lights to attract customers.


1903: The American Eveready company produced Christmas lights that were available for rent and came in seven colors: clear, frosted, green, blue, purple, ruby, and opal.


1917: Albert Sadacca invents safe lights to reduce the risk of fire.


1925: Innovation takes off, and by 1925, the National Outfit Manufacturer’s Association Electric Company (NOMA) offers lights that are more powerful, longer-lasting, and less expensive.


1930s: Novelty lights hit the scene, bringing snowmen with lights, icicle lights, and other decorations.


1940s: The Bubble Christmas light, which contained a liquid that boiled to produce bubbles, became trendy.


1950s: The aluminum Christmas tree takes off. But, as a conductor of electricity, Christmas lights couldn’t be placed on them. Instead, people used an illuminated color wheel that would cast a light on the tree.


1956: The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center gets electric lights.


1960s: Tract housing became popular, and so did decorating them with Christmas lights.


1973: An oil shortage prompts President Nixon to ask Americans not to put up Christmas lights to conserve energy.


1970s–1990s: Innovation continued to accelerate and produced smaller, cheaper, and more outdoor-friendly lights.


1998 to Today: LED (light-emitting diodes) take over and become the new standard in Christmas lights, using 80% less energy than incandescent lights and lasting 25 times longer, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That’s a big difference in efficiency on a per-house basis. Add it up for all the Christmas light installations across the country and it’s astronomical. The Energy Information Administration calculates that 3.5 billion kWhs are used to power Christmas lights across the country in December. But if only LED bulbs were used, it would require 75% less electricity.


The Future: What lies ahead for Christmas lights? With smart technology taking over homes, and stuff like holograms becoming more common, the possibilities are endless!


Happy Holidays From Energy Texas!

The history of Christmas lights has been long and eventful, and no one knows what will happen next. But one thing is for sure – the future looks bright. All of us at Energy Texas are proud to supply the electricity that illuminates the holidays and from all of us to you and yours… Happy Holidays!

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