One of the most familiar and stressful, yet heart-grabbingly festive times of the year is centered around December 25, colloquially known as Christmas. Not only is it when the sun exits its brief retrograde during the winter solstice, but it is also the time Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. In this celebration, Americans adorn the interior and exterior of their homes with holiday lighting displays. But when did people start adding lights to the holiday of Christmas? Because it definitely didn’t happen until after electricity was available, right?
It is arguable that there would have never been Christmas lights without first having the tree. Before the advent of Christmas, Christians brought evergreen trees into their homes during the cold winter months when times were hard. They used these trees daily to remind them of the eternal spirit within them and how it mirrors that of God. They did this because many people would die from environmental related issues during winter time. Therefore, the evergreen trees would significantly lift morale in people’s homes, enough to even alleviate illnesses or hunger. People appreciated these trees so much that they wanted to adorn them with decorations. Therefore, they began to put candles on the tree to signify, yet again, the eternal spirit of God and the light He brings into the world. They also adorned the coniferous trees with apples or sweet confections for other symbolistic ideas.
Eventually, the idea of bringing evergreen trees into the home during the winter would spread from its suggested origin of Latvia throughout the entire European landmass and even into the British Isles. This is where Queen Victoria of Britain, at only age 13, would take this age-old tradition and popularize it for the masses. She made decorating an evergreen tree “fashionable”.
From the 1830s all the way to the 1880s, people would think of new and creative ways to decorate their tree. Over the course of this time, the candles once placed solely on the tree for Christmas would evolve into orbs trailing away from the tree and end up placed on mantles of fireplaces or around window sills and throughout the home. They would continue to progress even further to outside the home from sitting on peoples porches, to hanging lanterns around the eaves of the house, and more.
On December 22, 1882, Christmas lights would change forever. Edward H. Johnson, a co-worker of Thomas Edison’s, was the first human to ever use electricity to decorate a Christmas tree. He ordered 80 custom made light bulbs that he was able to affix to his Christmas tree. The colors he chose to use were red, white, and blue just like those of the United States. Thirteen years later, President Grover Cleveland would finance the very first electrically lit Christmas tree at the White House.
Early on, electricity and lighting was rather expensive. Candles remained the go-to lighting in homes until the 1930s. By then it was customary to use electric lights to illuminate the holiday decor in and around people’s homes. This brings us to today, where people can become a viral sensation on the internet for their over-the-top and extravagant lighting decorations around the home. For example Carson Williams, who synced up his lighting display to the music of the Trans Siberian Orchestra. We now drive to neighborhoods known for their lighting displays and make dates or family events just to go see them.
Now, nearly everyone that celebrates Christmas will decorate in some fashion for the occasion. Christmas lights have become more affordable than they were in the past and still epitomize the same ideas people had about them centuries ago. Christmas lights add a certain level of comfort to a home. They allow for a great way to express oneself, just like the famous Carson Williams. And most importantly, they lift people’s spirits as the days get shorter and the temperatures get colder. Like Andy Williams said, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”.