Driving by a house the other day I noticed that this house had it’s Christmas lights up. Usually I probably wouldn’t notice something so easily hidden in the passing landscape but something about those large, garish light bulbs swinging in the breeze off a front gutter caught my eye. Should I be asking myself “still up” or “so early”? Odder than the sight and physical presence of these bulbs was the fact that today was a mild, summer’s day in August and Christmas couldn’t be farther away.
These lights were the “old school” type. You know the ones: large, faded color, larger than your standard extra-large grocery store egg and spaced inches apart. These particular ones looked old enough to have probably started the whole Christmas lighting trend. Or did they? Either way, out of season and dated pushes me to think that these lights have remained posted up since sometime around the Gerald Ford administration. Do they not know that there are so many newer and more colorful ways to decorate your house for Christmas that have been retailed since Vietnam?
Looking back at the beginning of decorating houses for Christmas we must step further back to a little house of madness and invention back in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Our subject is Mr. Thomas Edison and on this day in 1880 he has just placed the first string of electric lights outside his laboratory struck haphazardly against an otherwise dark night lit by dweller’s candles. As a local train passed by the lab these passengers were the first version of “C’mon kids, hop in the car we’re going out to check out Christmas lights” that the world would know. However, Christmas light cruising was limited to this one individual passing night as Edison’s invention wouldn’t be fully ready for another 40 years and houses would remain relatively dark during this season until then.
Although the first real string of Christmas lights was developed and put onto his Christmas tree by Edison’s partner Johnson in 1882, despite the catchy red, white and blue bulbs shining from their Christmas tree, the trend failed to catch on completely. President Cleveland in 1895 did request and have delivered multicolored bulbs for his Christmas tree early enough – a short time later President Coolidge requested and received that the national Christmas tree at the White House be lit up with 3,000 colorful bulbs.
Prior to using any type of electric decoration Christmas trees were illuminated by candles which proved to be somewhat unreliable as thousands of houses and their surroundings burned at what should have been a celebratory time of the year. Prior to 1903 only the rich (and presidents) could afford to have these expensive lights installed for their home. The cost was prohibitive to only the few that could afford it. Again, this practice still hadn’t fully caught on until much time later.
Around the time of 1917 a young enterprising teen Albert Sadacca worked for his family’s novelty lighting business and suggested the marketing of boxed Christmas lighting. By 1920 they became incorporated as National Outfit Manufacturing Association (NOMA) Electric Company and so the trend began. The trend didn’t only just begin but eventually exploded.
Decorations started modestly with simple large bulbs spaced a decent distance apart of various painted colors. Eventually non-lighted lawn decorations were celebrating under the blaze of large colorful bulbs in the form of upright Santas stuck into the lawn carrying that bag of goodies along with cut out wood reindeer, chimneys, miniature villages, snowmen and sleds. Soon these same items began to produce their own lighting via colorful bulbs and were placed haphazardly in the front lawn as if, while passing, we were entering some psychotic, multicolor world of insanity as playful creatures and fat bearded men with flying equestrians like animals mobbed the front lawn. Things would always get better (or worse) as technology led to plastic Santas and aforementioned animals internally lit. Bulbs were offered smaller with more taste and better reliability. Simple white designs returned to resemble the late 1800′s with (electrically lit) candles in the windows. Sometimes the addition of simple white lights were added to create just the right mix. Today we have LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting which uses less electricity and produces a brighter light. Lighting is sold in the shape of cascading icicles hung off roof tops. There are very large, inflatable, internally lit with repetitive, mechanical movement within the inflated globe – some of these measure up to 8 feet high and higher.
So, in looking at this house with it’s big, simple colorful bulbs have we really progressed? Simply in technology, reliability and affordability we have come a long way but our garish sense of style has not. Keep it simple, clean and fun and you can’t go wrong.
Guest Blogger- John J. Connors