Banana Don’s Slice Of Americana – Christmas Lights: A History
Somebody impressed with my recent reporting on tree snakes from Guam and the real, DRUNKEN history of the song “Jingle Bells”, has asked me to research the history of Christmas lights. I am only too happy to do so.
The first Christmas lights were wooden logs on fire. According to thehistoryofchristmas.com , the winter festival celebrated by the Vikings of Northern Europe was known as “Yule”. It was
“a Feast of the Dead, complete with ceremonies full of spirits, devils, and the haunting presence of the Norse god, Odin, and his night riders.”
And just like your weird Uncle Harry, they liked to drink beer and set stuff on fire. So, they went out and cut down a “Yule Log”, dragged it home, decorated it and lit it on fire. Then they sat around and watched it burn and drank beer. And, as long as the yule log burned, (sometimes for as long as twelve days!) the house was protected from witches and evil spirits. Eventually they all passed out and the ashes of the Yule Log were spread on the fields to make the crops and livestock more fertile.
After a while, the Christians decided to burn Yule Logs, but they said the light represented the light of Jesus in the darkness. At the same time, Romans were decorating trees, so the Christians decided to decorate evergreens, but they put a star on top to represent the Star of Bethlehem.
In the mid 1800’s, the Germans started putting candles on their trees. They GLUED them on or pinned them on. It goes without saying, there were a lot of fires. And yet, it became popular in the UK and then in North America. I’m sure at this point, a lot of American dads had to say, “well, if the Germans jumped off a bridge, would you do that, too?”
Finally, Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. And his partner Edward H Johnson had an idea. On December 22, 1882, Ed wired up his Christmas tree with 80 red white and blue lightbulbs the size of walnuts. And the rest is history. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that Christmas lights came down in price enough for most people to put them on their trees, but then they put them everywhere – houses, skyscrapers, dorm rooms and tacky bars in Florida.
So there you have it. The history of Christmas lights. That beer in my photo is calling.