Stringing lights on the tree has been a beloved tradition for many people for decades, but there weren’t always lights to string on the tree. Luckily, most people have only heard stories from their parents or grandparents about buildings burning down due to candles, which were the decorative precursors to the incandescent lightbulb, lighting the tree on fire. But technology has come a long way since both the candle and the incandescent lightbulb. Today’s lights are much easier to apply, safer to burn, and brighter to the eye than ever before.

Moving Toward the Light

bowl of popcorn to be strung for garlandWe might take it for granted, but electricity is still a relatively novel utility in the grand scheme of things. Even the candle wasn’t the first choice when it came to decorating the holiday tree. Before light even came into the picture, decorations included food or fruit in addition to ornaments, and that tradition continues today in a slightly different form.

Homemade Christmas decorations like popcorn and cereal garland were, perhaps, the most exciting decorating traditions for children due to the edible quality of the decorating materials. And because edible decorations must be recreated again and again, the thrill of decorating feels new every year. Tinsel, which was not initially widely available, is another classic decoration, and it, too, makes for a shiny, endearing tradition—until you have to clean it up, at least.

Lighting Up the Tree

Between the eras when decorating was dominated by fruits and Christmas LED lights evoked wide-eyed admiration, people used candles to beautify their trees. This dangerous tradition was—thankfully—fairly short-lived since electricity became available to most of the American population by the early 1900s.

Much like the classic story of walking five miles uphill in the snow both ways to school, the individual stringing of incandescent Christmas bulbs together is one of my grandpa’s favorite stories to tell. He didn’t enjoy the task, but he did enjoy seeing his family’s excitement once the tree was shining brightly.

LED vs. Incandescent Christmas Lights

As far as different types of Christmas lights go these days, you shouldn’t want for diversity. Incandescent bulbs are still available, but you also have the added benefits of extended lifespan and efficiency provided by LED lights. Plus, lights aren’t just for the tree anymore. You can hang them on the outside of the house, on your shrubs, and nearly anywhere else on your property.

LED lights come in warm and cool colors and in the traditional incandescent shape (C7 and C9), so you don’t have to give up the large bulbs of your childhood. You can also buy them in the form of miniature lights, small spherical bulbs (G20), and conical bulbs. They also come in exciting multicolored, classic white, and serene blue strands so you can choose the color set that best suits your needs.

Do make sure that your exterior lights are made for the outdoors, because interior lights won’t hold up outside and may pose a risk to your home if exposed to the elements. To maximize optimal energy use, set your lights on a timer, or remember to turn them off before you go to bed each night.

large house with extensive holiday lightsWith today’s technology, your decorating possibilities are practically endless. You can string the whole house with lights, put displays of Santa and his reindeer on the roof, and project light displays on your home in various shapes. 

We’ve come a long way since the days of hanging fruit and candles on the tree, but that doesn’t mean traditions like homemade garlands and tinsel have died out. If anything, the light amplifies their visual appeal. When decorating this year, pick your favorite aspects of old traditions and make some new ones.