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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

L is for Lights

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Light displays seem to be a bigger and brighter Christmas tradition each year with neighborhoods, cities, parks, and public gardens creating larger and longer periods for creative and sparkling displays. How can any modern day list of Christmas traditions for A to Z not include L is for Lights

is for Lights

Yet, I still enjoy the reserved, not so over-the-top, lights reminiscent of the traditional lights of my childhood. A time when the only Christmas lights were on our one-and-only Christmas tree in the living room. 

The history of Christmas lights begins with candles in the 17th century. From there lit candles on Christmas trees from German traditions became an English tradition in the Victorian Age. 

Prince Albert of England introduced decorated Christmas trees into the English royal family Christmas celebrations from his German heritage. Trees were decorated on Christmas Eve, including with lighted candles. Buckets of water sat nearby in case of fire. Sketches of the royal family Christmas celebrations  with the lighted, decorated Christmas tree were published in newspapers. Soon well-to-do English and American families began decorating evergreen trees with lighted candles and ornaments for Christmas and established our long tradition of lighted, decorated Christmas trees.  

The first Christmas tree decorated with electric lights was in New York City in 1882 by Edward Johnson, a friend of Thomas Edison. Eventually the cost of electrical tree lights became affordable for middle class families. 

The first Christmas tree in our newly built post and beam house in 1987 was almost twelve feet tall. Lights and the few ornaments we had decorated the tree. All of my husband's family came and stayed with us to celebrate Christmas that year. Many members of his family had helped in the barn-raising of the post and beam structure early in the spring. Then several of them also worked on finishing the house throughout the summer into early fall. Christmas at the house was a celebration of the house as well as of Christmas. 

That first Christmas was the only year we had a super tall tree. Some years the Christmas tree only has ornaments and no lights. 

And the living room is not the only space decorated with Christmas trees. Plus, over time I have experimented with different ways to use lights on a Christmas tree. This table top tree has a set of snowflake lights around its base instead of interspersed throughout the tree. 

Different year, different fresh-cut tree, and different location for a table top tree in the same large white ceramic urn and decorated with the same set of snowflake lights that now cascade from the top of the tree down the outer branches. No ornaments other than the glass star tree topper, just lights. 

For several years, a wrought iron tree-shaped topiary in a ceramic urn on the front porch has been decorated with large bulb lights year round. During the Christmas season, I add fresh-cut evergreens from our yard and cut from the bottom of the indoor Christmas tree. The lights illuminate the front porch and walkway to aid navigating the route to the front door after dark. 

Many of my rural neighbors decorate their fences, houses, and trees with Christmas lights beginning in November and throughout the holidays until early January, making lights a tradition for outdoor spaces as well as indoor Christmas trees.