The History of Christmas Lights & How They’ve Changed Over Time

The tradition of adding cheerful lights to dark winter nights began in ancient times when people gathered around fires or decorated their homes with candles. Considering holiday lights can be traced to ancient winter solstice celebrations, it may come as a surprise to learn holiday lighting as we know it is a fairly recent development.

Read more about the history of Christmas lights, how they have changed over time, and your options for installing them on your own home!

Vintage Christmas Lights

The history of Christmas lights

It all began in 1882 when Edward Johnson created the first strand of electric holiday lights and installed them in his parlor window for everyone walking by to enjoy. The strand was made up of 80 red and blue lights, which were powered by a  generator. Costing over $300 in modern terms, early electric holiday lights weren’t affordable for most people, but they were far safer than the fire risk posed by attaching lit candles to an evergreen tree.

Within 50 years, electric holiday lights were being mass-produced and had become well established as an annual tradition. Mr. Johnson might be astonished to see the advancements made since his original breakthrough.

A brief overview of holiday lighting technology over the years:

Modern Christmas light bulb
  • In 1903, the American Eveready Company sold the first “pre-wired, socket-ready” strings of holiday lights; blinking lights followed about twenty years later. By 1965 sound effects had been developed.
  • The evolution of shunts allowing the current to by-pass a burnt out bulb while keeping the rest of the strand lit was a welcome advancement for anyone who had faced the frustration of having the entire strand go dark when a single incandescent bulb burnt out.
  • In the late 1990s, LED lights offered a durable energy-efficient improvement. According to the US Department of Energy, it costs only $0.27 to light a 6-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days with LED bulbs, compared to $10 for incandescent.
  • Computer-controlled RGB lights are the latest advancement, allowing for animation and music as elaborate as any holiday light designer can dream up!

Holiday lights today

Americans purchase approximately 150 million light sets a year, lighting 80 million houses across the nation. Technology has become more durable, easier to operate and affordable, making holiday light displays very accessible for homeowners.

Elaborate lighting displays set to music controlled by Raspberry Pi or Arduino mini-computers have even become popular projects for young tech-minded students. And with the rise of professional holiday lighting services, stunning displays worthy of public awe can be installed at private homes.

Can I have Christmas lights installed on my Twin Cities home?

The LED lighting technology we use at Rainbow Holiday Design is compatible with most current power sources in residential homes. Our team can also help you design the holiday light spectacle of your dreams — whether that’s simple and classic or bold and festive.

Contact our experts today for a free design consultation and learn more about how we install, maintain, remove and store the lights for you. After all, you don’t have to do any of the work to take all of the glory!

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