4. Glass Baubles!
The Christmas tree was adopted in upper-class homes in 18th-century Germany, where it was occasionally decorated with candles, which at the time was a comparatively expensive light source. Candles for the tree were glued with melted wax to a tree branch or attached by pins. Around 1890, candleholders were first used for Christmas candles. Between 1902 and 1914, small lanterns and glass balls to hold the candles started to be used. Early electric Christmas lights were introduced with electrification, beginning in the 1880s. The illuminated Christmas tree became established in the United Kingdom during Queen Victoria’s reign, and through emigration spread to North America and Australia. In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the delighted 13-year-old princess wrote, “After dinner.. we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room. There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees”. Until the availability of inexpensive electrical power in the early twentieth century, miniature candles were commonly (and in some cultures still are) used.
In the United Kingdom, electrically powered Christmas lights are generally known as fairy lights. In 1881, the Savoy Theatre, London was the first building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity. Sir Joseph Swan, pioneer of the incandescent light bulb, supplied about 1,200 Swan incandescent lamps, and a year later, the Savoy owner Richard D’Oyly Carte equipped the principal fairies with miniature lighting supplied by the Swan United Electric Lamp Company, for the opening night of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Iolanthe on 25 November 1882. The term ‘fairy lights’, describing ‘a small coloured light used in illuminations’ had already entered English: its usage for a string of electrically powered Christmas lights has been common in the UK ever since.
5. Fairy Lights
The first known electrically illuminated Christmas tree was the creation of Edward H. Johnson, an associate of inventor Thomas Edison. While he was vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company, a predecessor of today’s Con Edison electric utility, he had Christmas tree light bulbs especially made for him. He proudly displayed his Christmas tree, which was hand-wired with 80 red, white and blue electric incandescent light bulbs the size of walnuts, on December 22, 1882 at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Local newspapers ignored the story, seeing it as a publicity stunt. However, it was published by a Detroit newspaper reporter, and Johnson has become widely regarded as the Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights. By 1900, businesses started stringing up Christmas lights behind their windows. Christmas lights were too expensive for the average person; as such, electric Christmas lights did not become the majority replacement for candles until 1930. In 1895, U.S. President Grover Cleveland proudly sponsored the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House. It was a huge specimen, featuring more than a hundred multicolored lights. The first commercially produced Christmas tree lamps were manufactured in strings of multiples of eight sockets by the General Electric Co. of Harrison, New Jersey. Each socket took a miniature two-candela carbon-filament lamp.
6. Folding Foil Decorations
From that point on, electrically illuminated Christmas trees, but only indoors, grew with mounting enthusiasm in the United States and elsewhere. San Diego in 1904, Appleton, Wisconsin in 1909, and New York City in 1912 were the first recorded instances of the use of Christmas lights outside. McAdenville, North Carolina claims to have been the first in 1956. The Library of Congress credits the town for inventing “the tradition of decorating evergreen trees with Christmas lights dates back to 1956 when the McAdenville Men’s Club conceived of the idea of decorating a few trees around the McAdenville Community Center.” However, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has had “lights” since 1931, but did not have real electric lights until 1956. Furthermore, Philadelphia’s Christmas Light Show and Disney’s Christmas Tree also began in 1956. Though General Electric sponsored community lighting competitions during the 1920s, it would take until the mid-1950s for the use of such lights to be adopted by average households.