October 15, 2018

A History of Christmas Tree Light

First Christmas Tree Lights

A History of Christmas Tree LightYou may not be able to remember a time without Christmas tree light, but interestingly enough this tradition does not date from time immemorial.  While the lighting of fires and candles has a long history in the practice of many of the world’s religions, the practice of using light to adorn trees dates only to the middle of the 17th century.  A custom arising in what is now Germany, the lighting of trees was accomplished by attaching candles to trees with pins or wax.  For this reason, trees were rarely put up and surely not lit before Christmas Eve.

The practice of lighting tree with candles started to be seen in the US starting in the 1850’s as German immigrants brought the practice with them.  Shortly thereafter, Queen Victoria the arbiter of great style began lighting a tree, where upon the US White House followed suit.

First Christmas Light Bulbs

It was not until 18882 though that a tree was lit with electric Christmas light bulbs.  Edward Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison is crediting as being the first to use electricity for Christmas tree lighting.  He hand wired 80 red, white and blue holiday lights and placed them on a rotating pine tree. Thirteen years later Grover Cleveland chose to have the nation’s tree lit with electricity causing a stir and resulting in retailers following suit.

An expensive endeavor at the turn of the century, a lit Christmas tree could cost a small fortune and thus was reserved only for the wealthy and their showy parties.  Preparing a tree required a wireman to light it and the installation of a generator. By the end of the first decade of the 1900’s the concept had evolved to include screw-in bulbs, a wall socket plug and also a system that relied on telephone switchboard lights and a battery.

Big Business Takes on Christmas Tree Lighting

vintage xmas lights give your home a unique lookIn 1915 in answer to a tragic Christmas tree candle fire, Albert Sadacca came up with the idea of manufacturing electric lights on a string.  Eventually Sadacca’s idea evolved into the NOMA Electric Company which until 1965 was the largest Christmas lighting company in the world.  Following Sadacca’s path various companies sprang up offering a dazzling array of bulbs, just a few of which are pictured here.

So as you prepare for the Christmas holidays this year, take solace in knowing that the practice of Christmas tree lighting is a fairly recent one–one that you should not stress out over too much.
Simply use the lights you have on hand, pick up some of the new LED Christmas bulbs or hire yourself a Christmas lights professional.

Have yourself a bright and merry holiday! A History of Christmas Tree Light 3

Today’s Choice–Icicle Christmas Lights

Icicle Christmas lights are just the latest of a long string of outdoor lighting techniques used to light homes in celebration of Christmas.  A popular choice, they simulate dripping from the eaves of homes, and can frequently also be seen cascading from the branches of Christmas trees both indoors and out.

History of Festive Lighting

Just how did these and other types of lights become so important to our culture’s obsession with outdoor Christmas lighting?  Interestingly enough, festive lighting dates back to ancient times long before the advent of Christianity.  Acknowledging the importance of light to the harvest and to life itself, ancient cultures revered the presence of light in a spiritual sense and made use of it in the various festivals they celebrated.

Christmas Tree Lighting–A Modern Twist on Ancient History

Using light on trees seems to be rooted in ancient history as well.  The Druids of France and England considered the oak tree to be sacred and at festival times were believed to decorate them with candles.  Later, in early Christianity, it is said that Martin Luther attempted to recreate the beauty of stars lighting forest trees by bringing a candled tree into his home for his family to enjoy.  This practice is believed to have evolved into the German tradition of Christmas tree lighting.  From Germany, the tradition followed Prince Albert to England when he married Queen Victoria.

Similarly German settlers were credited with bringing Christmas tree lighting to the United States.  The first actual tree was believed to be displayed in Pennsylvania in 1851.  Lighting was kept to a minimum due to the fire hazard of placing lit candles on an indoor tree.  In fact, most trees were lit only on Christmas Eve and only for a few moments.  It took until Thomas Edison’s development of the electric light bulb and the subsequent manufacture of Christmas light bulbs for the trees to be lit for extended periods of time.

Although many of us can’t envision Christmas without Christmas tree lighting, the practice of bringing a tree indoors didn’t really catch on until after the first tree made its debut in the White House.  Unbelievably, this wasn’t until 1856. Most likely there was an attempt to be European and follow the traditions being popularized by England’s trend-setting Queen Victoria.

Festive Lighting–Not just Christmas Lites

Other cultures besides our own continue to use festive lighting.  Of particular note is the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, the Hindu festival of Diwali and the Thai festival of Loi Krathong.  Each of these festivals of light has a long history and like Christmas lighting has its roots in ancient peoples fascination and respect for the light of the sun and stars.