Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Christmas (Light) Story

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A Christmas (Light) Story on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

I have a confession. We did very little decorating for Christmas this year. I'm not proud of it, but it's a fact. There are plenty of reasons, but three main things going on - we were legitimately so busy most of the past month that finding time to decorate was a challenge; we weren't going to be home for Christmas; and for whatever reason, we just weren't feeling it much. Nevertheless, we did put up some lights inside and out, displayed a nativity set, and set up and decorated a Christmas tree. (Just not as many decorations as usual) And since we love seeing Christmas lights, and we hear that our little granddaughter loves them as well, I got a bit curious about the story behind Christmas lights.

 For most of us, colored Christmas lights decorating trees and houses is something we grew up with and consider it just a part of Christmas. In fact, with all the choices we have - LED lights, programmable lights, projectors, and all the other variations - we've come to think of those old C9 bulbs as being "vintage". And of course, they are! But there was a time when even those bulbs were brand new technology.

A Christmas (Light) Story on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Light has long been symbolic in Christian celebrations and in pagan winter festivities, so it's no surprise that light would be a big part of Christmas, since it's a Christian celebration that takes place during the shortest days of winter, near winter solstice. The earliest reference to placing candles on a tree dates the practice to 1660 in Germany. In 1747 the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers brought us what might be the first official Christmas tree, which was actually a "lichstock" (light stick), or a large wooden pyramid lit by candles.  In 1832, a Harvard professor took that idea a step further and decorated an evergreen with candles. Some years later, the clip-on candle holder that held the candles securely to the tree was invented. In 1846, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert gathered around a candle-lit Christmas tree with their children, and the illustration that was circulated was hugely influential.

As you can imagine, putting candles on an evergreen tree and lighting them created quite the fire hazard! People were definitely mindful of the risk and kept buckets of water close at hand, and usually only had the candles lit for a few minutes at most. 

Albert Chevallier Tayler - The Christmas Tree 1911

A Christmas (Light) Story on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Fast forward to 1880 when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb . . . and displayed the lights outside his laboratory in the first outdoor Christmas light display separate from the tree. Just a couple of years later, Edward Hibberd Johnson, an inventor that worked under Edision, came up with the idea of putting electric lights on a tree. He hand-wired a string of 80 small red, white, and blue electric bulbs for a tree displayed outside Edison's workshop. Of course the lighted tree drew a crowd, and what started as a publicity stunt turned into a tradition, with more lights added each year.

By the turn of the century, it was becoming popular for businesses to display trees lit with electric bulbs. However, electricity wasn't routinely available in homes, and it wasn't until 1903 that General Electric introduced pre-assembled light kits, making it more practical for families to light their own trees. And as the strings of lights became more readily available, and the prices started to come down, this Christmas tradition became widespread.

A Christmas (Light) Story on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

A Christmas (Light) Story on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

A Christmas (Light) Story on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Today about 150 million light sets are sold in America each year, lighting up about 80 million homes, and accounting for about six percent of the nation's electricity each December.

We've passed Christmas Day on the calendar, but it's still the Twelve Days of Christmas, and we still plan to go see some of the outdoor light displays. Probably after we visit a couple of stores and see what kind of great deals we can get on lights to add to our own display for next year!

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Annette V said...

Good to know the history behind Christmas lights, glad I stopped in.

Jeniffer D said...

We also shop day after Christmas sales for stuff to use next year.That's the best time to buy, right??

Indasa Butler said...

I love learning history about traditional celebrations! This is great. We're also celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas and picking up some good deals for small gifts. I didn't think about lights. Good idea.

Carol said...

I love looking at the lights too! We visited a new-to-us display this year and it was great!

Angie Runyan said...

Love history lessons like this one. We have friends from Germany who actually still put candles on their tree. It is a very limited time and much supervised event. We were invited for a lighting and it was as scary as it was festive! Glad to have electricity!

Kristen H said...

Very interesting.

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