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Christmas lights - a potted history


It’s that time of year again when we’re starting to get excited about Christmas lights. Actually, if we’re honest we’ve been excited for a little while! We just love seeing a nicely decorated Christmas tree that sparkles in the corner of a room. For us, it’s the essence of Christmas. But have you ever given much thought to the humble fairy or string light? In this blog, we’re going to give them the love and attention they deserve.


The Christmas Tree


Most of you will have heard the story that Queen Victoria was the first person to have a Christmas tree over here in the UK. Actually, it is thought to go back a little further, to the 1790s when King George III’s German wife, Charlotte, used to decorate a tree for her family. With many upper-class German homes having a tree, it was natural that she would want to have one for her family too.


By the time we had got to Victorian times, Christmas trees were getting popular, if not a little dangerous. As at this time they were still decorated with lit candles! The first candles were either glued to the tree with candle wax or were later fixed with small candle holders, or lanterns. We’re not sure that was the safest thing to do, in hindsight. People were using real trees, the combination of drying out wood and naked flames was not always a happy one.



Electric lights


The first recorded electrically illuminated Christmas tree was in 1882. Edward Johnson, who was the vice president of Edison Electric Light Company, had displayed a tree with hand-wired lights on it outside his home in New York. It was first seen as a publicity stunt, but when newspapers picked up on the story, it became the thing to have. At this time, the bulbs were about the size of walnuts, so not yet the string of tiny bulbs that we know and love.


Even though electrically illuminated trees were around by the early 1900s the lights were far too expensive for the average family to buy. Some reports suggest it would have cost around £7000 to light a tree, in today’s money, so candles stayed dangerously balanced on domestic trees until around the 1930s.


Over the years the technology in lights has changed. We’re now used to buying a string of lights which are made up of LED bulbs. Each of these bulbs can fail, but the lights will still work. Not like in our childhood when we remember whole strings of incandescent bulbs failing because of one tiny light.

The technology of LED bulbs has moved on greatly which means that these generally last longer, are safer and look good too!


Going outside


Lots of us will have fond childhood memories of going into our local town centre to see the great Christmas light switch on. They were very much a fixture of our lives in the 1970s and 1980s. However, perhaps the place where lights have had the biggest impact, is outside the realm of the Christmas tree itself. With more and more homes choosing to create ever bigger displays of lighting either outside their home or in their windows using curtain lights.


In some areas, particularly in the US, there are towns that have huge displays that twinkle along to the music played on a specific radio station. Displays such as the ones in London at Regent Street, or the Rockefeller Christmas tree in New York have become tourist attractions in their own right!


Did you know that the Rockefeller tree has over 50,000 LED lights that are on around 8km of wire? That is a lot of lights!

Stepping back in time?


Well, they do say that fashion comes in cycles and Christmas lights are probably no different. Remember we said about candles on trees? With a number of people looking to have a more traditional feel to their Christmas tree, we are proud to be a stockist of Noma Magic Candles, which takes us right back to where we started.


Although these lights look like the real thing, there is no danger of setting your tree on fire!


We hope that this blog has given you a little insight into how the world of Christmas lighting has changed. If you’re thinking about upgrading your lights, then why not have a look at our collection of Noma lights. We have everything from a classic looking LED string light, to flexible garlands. There really is something for everyone.