December 22 – First Christmas Tree Lights

Around the holidays, many people have a tradition of touring neighborhoods to see the elaborate light displays.  Homes and towns all across the U.S. set up Christmas trees and decorate it with lights.  In fact, it is hard to picture the holiday season without picturing a lit up Christmas tree.  The origin of putting lights on pine trees can be traced far back in history, but it first was introduced into the United States in 1832 by a Harvard professor.  Possibly inspired by the German tradition of putting ornaments on trees, this professor illuminated his Christmas tree with candles.  When President Franklin Pierce had the White House Christmas tree decorated with candles in 1856, the tradition became far more universal.  However, decorating dry pine trees with candles poses many problems.  Without any type of candle holder, it is extremely hard to get a lighted candle to stay perched on a branch.  Even if the candle were placed in a candle holder, there is still a large risk in having lighted candles on such a great fire hazard as a pine tree.  Thus, precaution was necessary in observing this tradition.  This tradition changed, though, when Thomas Edison introduced electric Christmas lights.  Edison, who enjoyed publicity stunts, decided to string up some of his famous incandescent lights in front of his laboratory, so that passengers on the trains could see the twinkling of the lights for Christmas.  Two years later, an associate, Edward Johnson made Christmas even more special.  Johnson created the first strand of Christmas lights.  He placed these on an evergreen in his New York home and caused an immediate buzz from pedestrians.  The very first Christmas tree to ever have electric lights had just eighty of them.  Blue, white, and red bulbs lit up the tree and dazzled onlookers.  Although the public was eager to use electric lights as well, it was not until 1894 that the White House Christmas tree was electrically illuminated.  President Grover Cleveland ordered the change because of his daughters’ admiration of the electric lights.  Even then, for most of the citizens of the United States, electrical Christmas lights were still too expensive and inaccessible to use instead of candles.  In fact, it was not until the 1940’s that electric Christmas lights officially overtook candles as the most used illumination for Christmas trees.  Now, Christmas trees are strung with many more than 80 Christmas lights.  Christmas lights themselves have changed form.   But one thing still remains as it has since long before Edison’s Christmas lights, we are fascinated with putting sparkling lights on trees!



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