History of Christmas Lights

Ever wonder how the tradition of hanging Christmas lights began? There is quite the historical background on this tradition, with deeper meanings than one might assume. I think everyone would agree that Christmas lights bring lots of holiday cheer to a sometimes harsh and cold winter season, but how did it all start?

First came the idea of a Christmas tree. Trees have been a symbol of good luck since the Middle Ages. Plants and trees that remain green all year are said to have special meaning in the winter time. In many countries, it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits and even illness.  The Christmas tree tradition is said to have began in Germany in the 16th century, where they would nail a small evergreen tree to the highest beam of all new houses being built. They started bringing the good luck tree into their homes when it got cold and would decorate it around Christmas time. Many people believe that the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther first added lighted candles to a Christmas tree. It is said that Luther was awed by the brilliance of the twinkling stars in the sky one night while walking towards his home, so he decided to recapture this brilliance by wiring candles to a tree inside his home.

In America, most settlers thought the Christmas tree tradition was odd and it wasn’t until the 1830s that German settlers in America displayed decorated Christmas trees. Prior to this time New England Puritans believed Christmas was very sacred and felt that the decorating of a Christmas tree was a form of “pagan mockery” which many people protested. It was really not until 1846 that the Christmas tree was more widely accepted in America, when  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were sketched in the Illustrated London News with their children around a Christmas tree. Queen Victoria’s popularity with her subjects and with East Coast American Society helped to turn the idea of a Christmas tree into a fashionable and desirable custom.

In 1882 Edward Johnson, an inventor who worked under Thomas Edison, lighted a Christmas tree in New York City with electric lights for the first time. Johnson invented the first string of Christmas lights that was mass produced in the 1890’s. By 1900, department stores joined in on using electric Christmas lights to decorate their window displays for the holiday season. Around the year 1918, a young man named Albert Sadacca was touched by a tragic story of a fire started in someone’s home from the lighted candles on a Christmas tree. Sadacca invented “safe” Christmas lights and soon started using multicolored bulbs that became widely produced. He soon had a multi-million dollar business, and shortly after he formed a company called NOMA Electric Company with his two brothers. This became the largest Christmas lighting company in the world.

As the Christmas lights traditions spread from New York City around the country, the displays grew into much more than simply decorated trees. Large displays began popping up all over the U.S., which is partly attributed to the idea of holiday decorating contests promoted by companies like General Electric. Today, about 150 million Christmas light sets are sold in America each year.