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The History of Christmas Lights: Illuminating the Holiday Spirit

Introduction: Christmas lights have been a staple of the holiday season for over a century, bringing light and joy to homes, communities, and cities during the dark winter months. In this article, we will delve into the rich history of Christmas lights, exploring how they evolved from simple candles to the dazzling displays we know today.

books on table with candles

Early Beginnings: Candles and lanterns

The use of lights during the winter solstice can be traced back to ancient civilizations, who lit candles and lanterns to symbolize the return of the sun and the renewal of life. In the Christian tradition, candles were used in early Christmas celebrations to symbolize the light of Christ and represent the triumph of good over evil.

Early Christmas lights in America

When Christmas was first celebrated in America in the 17th and 18th centuries, candles were used to decorate homes and churches. Candles were often placed in windows and allowed to glow at night. However, as cities grew and became more densely populated, the use of open flames became increasingly dangerous, leading to the development of safer alternatives.

GE electric ad for Christmas lights

Christmas lights go electric!

The introduction of electric lights revolutionized in the late 19th century revolutionized Christmas decorating. The first electric Christmas lights were invented by Edward H. Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, in 1882. These early lights were composed of a string of small, colored bulbs that were powered by a generator and were a hit with both children and adults.

example of old Christmas lights

The popularization of Christmas lights

As technology improved, Christmas lights became more widely available and affordable, allowing more people to decorate their homes for the holidays. In the early 20th century, department stores and businesses also began to use Christmas lights as a way to attract customers and create a festive atmosphere. One famous example is the holiday display at Macy’s department store in New York City, which has been a holiday tradition since the 1920s.

Development of light displays In the mid-20th century, the use of Christmas lights shifted from simple strings of lights to more elaborate displays, featuring animated figures, fiberglass ornaments, and even synchronized music. These displays were a hit with families, attracting crowds of people who would drive or walk through neighborhoods to see the lights.

Modern Christmas lights Today

Christmas lights have become an integral part of the holiday season, with millions of people decorating their homes, businesses, and communities with an array of lights, displays, and ornaments. From the simple strings of colored bulbs, to the dazzling light shows that can be seen in cities and towns across the world, Christmas lights continue to bring joy and wonder to people of all ages.

One of our favorite modern Christmas light displays in Northwest Arkansas is Lights on Driftwood. Check out his facebook page here. A video of his incredible display is below.



At the heart of the Christmas light tradition is the desire to celebrate the holiday season and bring light to the darkest time of the year. Whether you’re stringing lights around your home, admiring a grand display, or simply enjoying the sight of twinkling lights in your neighborhood, the history of Christmas lights is a reminder of the magic and beauty of the holiday season.

We love the history of the Christian faith and how it is intricately woven into our celebration of Christmas across the nation. We believe that glorifying God is at the center of our business. We believe that bringing joy and light to people’s lives is a way to honor Him, and we are grateful for the opportunity to serve our community in this way. We hope that our lights and displays bring joy and happiness to those who see them, and that they help to spread the message of hope and love that is at the heart of the holiday season.

Interested in learning more?

We have studied a lot about the history of Christmas. The documentary below is one of our favorite documentaries about the history of Christmas from The History Channel!