Christmas Is: Lights!

I wondered when and where the tradition of using Christmas lights began. I have always loved Christmas decorations, especially the lights. I still love driving around the neighborhoods to look at the many Christmas displays, some of which are incredibly detailed with thousands of lights. There are even some homes that have their own FM radio signal so visitors can listen and watch the lights choreographed to music. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to do something like that.

I grew up in a neighborhood where the lots were small and the houses were close. It seemed like every house was decorated at Christmas time. We used to walk around the block to look at the lights and there were so many the glow filled the air brightly enough to easily light our way. It was especially beautiful when there was a blanket of snow on the ground. It was magical.

The tradition of decorating and lighting Christmas trees began with the use of candles. That seems incredibly dangerous and there were probably lots of fires as a result. The lights were used as a symbol of Christ as the light of the world. The practice was actually borrowed from a pagan ritual celebrating the return of sunlight and longer days after the winter solstice.

The tradition of decorating and lighting Christmas trees began in Germany during the eighteenth century.

Naturally, electric light use on a Christmas tree began with Edward H. Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, the man who invented the electric light bulb. Johnson had lights made for him and decorated the Christmas tree in his home with red, white, and blue lights in December of 1882. A newspaper in Detroit published the story. Public display of Christmas lights by businesses began in 1900. (

I think the article on Wikipedia I used for this information is incorrect. According to the article, outdoor decorating of houses with electric lights at Christmas time began in the 1960s. I think it began long before that.

It’s great to see the light strings with the old fashioned large bulbs making a comeback. The smaller more common bulbs are great, especially the strings that don’t go out if one bulb goes out. There is just something special, to me, about the larger bulbs. I love the way they look. Larger bulbs stir larger memories.

One of the most amazing displays of Christmas lights each year takes place in Rochester, Michigan. Every store downtown is completely covered with vertical strings of lights. When driving through Rochester last summer, I purposely looked at the buildings to see if they leave the strings of lights up all year. They don’t! What an incredible effort by each of the business owners to make such a great event possible! The strings are very close together so the solid appearance of bright twinkle lights is really breath-taking.

Another beautiful display of Christmas lights enjoyed by thousands of people each year happens at Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad, which is part of the Genesee County Parks Department in Michigan. Unfortunately, this year the village had to cancel all of its activities because of the current health crisis facing each of us. Crossroads Village is made up of historic buildings that have been donated and moved to the property. The railroad is an operating narrow-gauge steam locomotive pulling restored authentic passenger cars. At Christmas the locomotive and the cars are decorated with lights and visitors are invited to take the train for a forty-minute ride through beautifully lighted countryside.

Of course, the best way to enjoy Christmas lights is in your own home, sitting near the Christmas tree, with all the other lights turned off. Whether you use colored or white lights, the glow in the room is beautiful. Added to the beauty of the lights is your favorite Christmas music softly playing in the background.

The greatest thing about Christmas lights is that light is light. Whatever other decorations you have or where they came from, lights stand alone but they make everything else more beautiful. A Christmas tree would not be the same without lights.

I hope your Christmas season is filled with lights. Lots and lots of lights. Colored ones, white ones, big, small, twinkling, and glowing.

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