Thursday, August 26, 2010

There's a light......

We can't think of the holidays without having some conversation about lights.  We have them on our trees, on our homes, and on our yards.  Some are modest and some are over the top.  Some are set with music, or just blink on and off.  Whatever your tradition, lights are part of the holidays.

The first Christmas lights that resembled what you see on trees today were first used in 1882. Edward Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, wound 80 red, white, and blue bulbs around his Christmas tree. The bulbs were hand wired together, much like how you would string beads on thread to make a necklace.

In 1895, President Grover Cleveland added electric Christmas lights to the tree in the White House. This important moment in Christmas lights history created widespread interest in a newer method of holiday decorating. Thomas Edison began offering hand-blown bulbs for Christmas trees through General Electric and many large businesses began using brightly lit trees as a strategy for attracting customers during the holiday shopping season. When the public saw these trees, they sometimes referred to the Christmas lights as either "fairy lights" or "twinkle lights."

In the early 1900s, it became fashionable for members of high society to throw Christmas tree lighting parties. These elaborate parties were planned for many months and cost a considerable amount of money. While the average worker only made 22 cents per hour at this time, the first Christmas lights cost $12 for a set of 24 lights. In addition, the process of attaching the individual lights to the tree required skills that most people did not possess. The services of a professional wireman were typically required before the party could begin. 
In 1908, the first battery-operated Christmas tree lights became available after Ralph Morris came up with the idea of pulling the lights from an old telephone switchboard for use on a Christmas tree.

By most accounts, Albert Sadacca deserves credit for making Christmas tree lights widely available to the public. In 1917, after learning of a fire caused by a poor family who decorated their tree with lit candles because they couldn't afford modern Christmas lights, the 15-year old entrepreneur convinced his parents to use the bulbs from their business making novelty bird cage lights to create safe and affordable strings of Christmas lights. The idea got off to a slow start, but quickly picked up steam once they decided to paint the bulbs different colors instead of selling plain white lights.

Later, Albert Sadacca and his brothers Henri and Leon began NOMA Electric Company to manufacture and distribute Christmas lights. Until the 1960s, their company was the largest supplier of Christmas lights in the world. 

I remember those simple incandesant lights that everyone had when I was growing up.  If you were lucky you had the string of lights that, if one burnt out, the whole string of lights didn't do dark.  That chore was left to me or my brother.  Going from one light to the next, unscrewing the light, replacing it with a new one to see if the strand lit up, and then progressing to the next one, and so on.   Regardless of the work we thought was tedious, I still love it when the house is dark on Christmas Eve, but the tree's lights are on.  There's that stillness in the night, coupled with the gentle glow of the lights that makes the night a little more special.
Nowadays the trend is using LED, or light emitting diodes, lights for your Christmas lights.  They use considerably less energy, last longer, and are harder to break.   On the downside though, once one lights goes, you have to replace the whole string.  Also, not all lights have the same hue.  If you want to just have one colour on your tree, such as white, you should stick to using lights from the same company.  And check the box to make sure that it's the same type of white.  Some are more "natural" light and some of softer.  I learned that the hard way.  Regardless of what type of light you choose, having the gentle glow of the lights on the tree, or adorning the houses on your street, help you celebrate the holidays with a little more warmth.  Happy Holidays.

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