Keeping things light for the holidaysIt’s hard to imagine a holiday season without Christmas lights, but 150 years ago that was reality.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
It’s hard to imagine a holiday season without Christmas lights, but 150 years ago that was reality.
There were no white and blue icicles hanging from the edges of rooftops, no multicolored strands wrapped around snow-covered bushes and certainly no light-up snowmen dancing in the lawn.
The quintessential Christmas tree people have come to love decorating with hundreds of tiny bulbs wasn’t the same either.
Back before electric strings of lights were invented, families would illuminate their Christmas trees with candles. Of course, open flames and dry foliage presented danger.
By the late 1800s, the holidays became less of a hazard when Thomas Edison developed the first string of electric lights. According to the Library of Congress, he hung them around the outside of his Menlo Park, N.J., laboratory during the Christmas season of 1880, giving railroad passengers who traveled by a great view of the electrical display.
Still, people didn’t exactly latch onto the concept. In 1882, Edison’s friend Edward Johnson hand-wired red, white and blue bulbs together and strung them around his Christmas tree.
Again, the idea didn’t spread.
Finally, in 1895, President Grover Cleveland decided the family tree inside the White House should be illuminated by electric lights, and some credit his decision with spurring the acceptance of indoor Christmas lights.
While they had finally become popular with the general public, the strands of lights were anything but affordable. Lighting an average size Christmas tree would set a family back about $2,000 in today’s dollars.
Throughout the early 1900s, the lights became more affordable, and little by little, homes across the country were brightened by multicolored bulbs.
Today, a box of lights can be purchased for anywhere from $5 to $20 depending on which of the dozens of varieties you go for — and there’s something for everyone. Rope, net, icicle and mini lights are just a few options. Add in the various types of bulbs — C7, C9 and G20, among others — and the possibilities are practically endless.
If you grow tired of looking at your own Christmas lights this year, round up the family, hop in the car and flip on a CD of carols as you go for a drive and admire the neighbors’ holiday displays — it’s a great way to celebrate the season.
Plus, you’re bound to get plenty of great ideas on how to amp up your Christmas spectacle next year.