The holiday season is a magical time, beloved by young and old. Part of that magic is created by the holiday decor. The bright and shiny colored holiday lights that illuminate the dark, winter nights can put a twinkle in anyone’s eye. The lights are such an important part of our holidays that it is even a familiar pastime during the holiday season to go Christmas Light viewing. Families drive or walk around neighborhoods in the evening to see the light displays. One reason that the holiday light might be so popular and fill us with happiness is that holiday lighting has been part of holiday celebrations for nearly one thousand years.
History of Holiday Lighting
The tradition of holiday lights did not begin as part of a decor aesthetic. December is the darkest month of the year with the shortest days in the Northern Hemisphere. Prior to central heating and electric lights, the nights were dark, dismal, and cold. Thus, began the first holiday lighting tradition, an Anglo-Saxon pagan tradition. The Yule log was first lit in Germany during the winter of 1184. It turned night into day. The burning log was seen as a symbol of the sun’s promise to return following the winter solstice. It probably didn’t hurt that a big burning hunk of wood makes for a pretty good heat and light source.
By the 17th century, Christians had blended the pagan myths and traditions with their own. The practice of the Yule log had evolved into lighting small candles on the iconic Christmas tree. The Christmas tree was implemented in upper-class homes in 18th-century Germany. The Christmas trees were decorated with candles symbolizing Christ being the light of the world. Candles for the tree were glued with melted wax to a tree branch or attached by pins. Obviously, open flames on trees was a pretty bad idea. Because of this, the tree would only be put up a few days before Christmas and taken down immediately afterwards. Candles would remain lit only for a few minutes a night. Families would sit around the tree and watch it vigilantly. With evergreen trees infamous for bursting into flames without much prompting, buckets of water or sand were always kept nearby. By 1908, insurance companies wouldn’t even pay for damages caused by Christmas tree fires. Research indicated that burning wax candles attached to a dried-out tree inside your home wasn’t safe. (Who’d have thunk?)
In 1882, the look of the holiday season changed forever.
Instead of decorating a Christmas tree with candles, Edward H. Johnson strung 80 red, white and blue light bulbs that were about the size of walnuts on his Christmas tree at his home in Manhattan. Local newspapers ignored the story, seeing it as a publicity stunt. However, it was published by a Detroit newspaper reporter, and Johnson has become widely regarded as the Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights.
The public still didn’t trust electric lights as a safe alternative to candles, but that changed after President Grover Cleveland featured the first electrically lit White House Christmas tree in 1895. It was a huge tree with more than 100 multicolored bulbs. The brightly colored tree got America’s attention, and illuminated Christmas trees soon became all the rage. If you could afford one, that is.
By 1900, businesses started stringing up Christmas lights behind their windows. Christmas lights were still too expensive for the average person. Because of this electric Christmas lights did not become the majority replacement for candles until 1930. In 1900, a single string of electric lights cost $12 (around $300 in today’s money). The holiday lights weren’t perfect. Along with being expensive the incandescent bulbs could get plenty hot. Sparks from malfunctioning strings could still cause a dry Christmas tree to catch fire. But it was still a much safer option than live flame candles.
Eventually, strings of Christmas lights found their way into use in places other than Christmas trees. Soon, strings of lights adorned mantles and doorways inside homes. They ran along the rafters, roof lines, and porch railings of homes and businesses.
Americans grew more and more competitive. Thy try to outdo their neighbors in building the most elaborate home displays. And, as light displays became increasingly larger and more complex, computer-controlled lighting became a necessity.
Neighborhood and Public Light Tours
Displays of Christmas lights in public venues and on public buildings are a popular part of the annual celebration of Christmas. The displays utilize holiday lights in many ways. Decking towering Christmas trees in public squares, trees along the streets or in parks, adorning lampposts and other such structures, decorating significant buildings such as town halls and department stores, and lighting up popular tourist attractions.
Since the late twentieth century, increasingly elaborate Christmas lights have been displayed, and driving around to look at the lights has become a popular form of family entertainment. Some communities publish the routes of well-known neighborhoods with the most opulent displays. In some places holiday lighting becomes a fierce competition, with town councils offering awards for the best decorated house. In other areas holiday decorating is seen as a co-operative effort, with residents priding themselves on their street or their neighborhood’s decorations. The Holiday Trail of Lights is a joint effort by cities in east Texas and northwest Louisiana. The display started in 1927, making it one of the oldest light festivals in the United States. Fulton Street in Palo Alto, California, has the nickname “Christmas Tree Lane” due to the lighted Christmas trees on the sides of the street.
In the United States, lights have been produced for many other holidays. These may be simple sets in typical holiday colors, or the type with plastic ornaments which the light socket fits into. Light sculptures are also produced in typical holiday icons.
Halloween is the most popular, with miniature light strings having black-insulated wires and semi-opaque orange bulbs. Other Halloween sets include purple, green, or lime green bulbs.
Easter lights are often produced in pastels. These typically have white wire and connectors.
Red, white, and blue lights are produced for the United States’ Independence Day, as well as U.S. flag and other patriotic-themed ornaments. Net lights have been produced with the lights in a U.S. flag pattern. In 2006, some stores carry stakes with LEDs that light fiber-optics, looking similar to fireworks.
Various types of patio lighting with no holiday theme are also made for summertime. These are often clear white lights, but some are ornament sets, such as lanterns, or plastic ornaments in the shape of barbecue condiments, flamingos and palm trees, chili peppers, or even various beers.
Computer-controlled lighting took off in the 1990s. These holiday lights include a fully programmable lighting system. Newer inventions use software and wireless networks to create elaborate lighting displays that change based on the musical selection.
One of the most famous examples is Carson Williams’ home in Mason, Ohio. In 2004, Williams used Light-O-Rama equipment and a Trans-Siberian Orchestra track to control 16,000 lights with 88 different channels. A video of the display posted to YouTube in 2005 went viral.
Installing holiday lighting may also be a safety hazard when incorrectly connecting several strands of lights, repeatedly using the same extension cords, or using an unsafe ladder during the installation process. Traipsing about your roof line is a dangerous task and many people injure themselves falling off the roof while trying to hang their lights. That’s why Golf Greens Texas uses lifts and safety equipment when our technicians perform the installations.
From unspeakably hazardous tree candles to prohibitively expensive electric lights of 1900, today’s dazzling displays aren’t only safe but accessible to all. And today’s marvelous, over-the-top holiday light displays prove that we’ve come a long way since the days of sticking candles on a tree with wax.
Golf Greens Texas comes to you as a safe, time saving, and cost-efficient option for your holiday lighting needs. We can provide lighting displays that are suited to any taste, size, and budget. Let the Golf Greens Texas Holiday Lighting crew put that holiday magic twinkle your eye this holiday season.
Call 806-559-7048 to receive a holiday lighting quote.