Student Voice


April 23, 2024




Christmas tree lights, the history behind a tradition

December 9, 2011

Deck the halls, River Falls! We decorate for the holidays every year. It is an enjoyable pastime to decorate and get in the spirit.

Personally, my favorite holiday decoration is all of the lights. But why exactly do we put up Christmas lights during the holiday season and where do they come from? Sure, they look cool and pretty, but there is obviously some reason why we put them up in the first place. It has long been a Christmas tradition around the world. The tradition of decking out your house or room with Christmas lights is a long-standing tradition among Christians. Its popularity increased around the globe, and now non-Christian cultures are also adopting the tradition, notably in Japan.

The Christmas light tradition dates back to the mid-17th Century when people utilized small candles to put in their Christmas tree for that extra glow. It took a while to spread to other parts of the world, however, and reached Germany two centuries later, followed by countries in eastern Europe. People would also light candles and put them in the windowsill for travelers, along with telling Santa Claus what houses had the children. For many years, these small candles were used before the invention of electricity.

Finally, in 1895, President Grover Cleveland proudly showed off the very first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House. This was quite the breakthrough with technology, as the tree featured hundreds of multicolored lights. It was thanks to the General Electric Co. in Harrison, N.J. who started producing Christmas tree lamps in strings of multiples of eight sockets. From that point on, people grew more and more enthusiastic about Christmas lights throughout the United States, though only indoors at first. The first locations in the United States to start using Christmas lights outdoors was San Diego in 1904, Appleton, Wis. in 1909, and New York City in 1912.

A major reason why people started lighting candles and putting up Christmas lights dates back to a Roman Emperor by the name of Invictus Sol, who declared the winter solstice as a great celebration. The lights symbolize triumph over the dark and absence of sunlight during the winter days. It was used to acquire strength to the waning power of the light. Ultimately, they were, and still are used to liven up the atmosphere during the holiday season among the dreary winter outdoors.

These lights have also started being used for other holidays in addition to Christmas. The second most popular holiday to use lights is Halloween, using orange lights. Independence Day is another popular holiday for lights, using red, white and blue. Because there are so many different colored lights now available, there are lights made especially for specific holidays, with the respectable colors of that holiday.

I hope that the holiday season is full of lights for you as they are sure to spread cheer and warmth and chase the darkness away. No matter what color you want, it is surely easy to find and to get exactly the right flavor for your decorating. Have fun!

Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.


Lance on 12 Dec 2011: Exactly, I put up Christmas Lights and a lot of them, it costs 50 cents per hour to run them, about 4000 watts or 35 amps of lighting! God Bless!