From Wax to LED: An illuminating history of christmas lights

Most of use Christmas lights as part of our decorations for the festive season but probably not that many give much thought to their history as they are unravelling the sets from the storage box ready for another year.

Lights at Christmas have an interesting symbolism and history so here is a brief journey through time to see how our use of lights has evolved over the years.



The tradition of using candles at Christmas to light up our tree can be traced all the way back to the middle of the XV11th century but it only really started to take hold as a firm tradition when the people of Germany adopted the some two centuries later.

The candles were glued to the tree using melted wax or attached using pins until they started using candleholders in around 1890. Shortly afterwards in the early 1900’s, small lanterns and some glass balls were used to hold the candles on the tree.


Thomas Edison

The inventor of the light bulb, Mr Thomas Edison, can take the credit for introducing the first electric light bulbs to be used on a tree for decoration.

This led to one of his aides, Mr Edward Johnson, who later became vice-president of the Edison electric Company, to create the first string of mass-produced Christmas lights in about 1890.

The idea soon gained in popularity and by 1900, department stores were using Christmas lights for their decorations.


Safer lights

The first versions of Christmas lights were not designed with safety in mind and a tragic fire in New York prompted Mr Albert Sadacca to come up with the idea of safety Christmas lights when he was just 15 years old.

He went on to start a company called NOMA electric company, which became the largest Christmas lighting company in the world.


The lights we use today

We all love decorating our Christmas tree and in addition to a wide choice of electric lights now available today we can also enjoy an equally impressive range of ornaments to decorate our tree with from places such as

There are so many light options to choose from these days and here are some of the more popular types that you will probably use on your tree and around your home.


Incandescent lights

Amazingly this type of light uses a technology that is more than a hundred years old but still remains in use today.


Fairy lights

Available in a myriad of colors, the fairy lights are a traditional part of many people’s Christmas decorations, the only problem being with them is that each set is wired in series, so if one bulb goes out then the rest follow suit unless you have a replacement.


LED lights

In the history of Christmas lights, this is the new kid on the block. LED lights are growing in popularity as they are much more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs and also give off less heat, although some people think the lights are not as bright as traditional bulbs, but that will no doubt improve in due course.

The use of lights at Christmas has an interesting history and they certainly add a welcome festive sparkle to many of our homes during this exciting period of winter.

Susan Thomson loves the holidays and design. She often combines her passions into blogging about histories and inspirations.

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