Why Do We Hang Christmas Lights?

Unlike many Christmas activities, the newer tradition of stringing Christmas lights has no ties to religion.

It’s no big secret that the holidays are full of tradition. From putting up a tree in our living room to eating donuts on Christmas morning, there are traditions that are followed by millions around the world and others that are only followed by a single-family. In either case, we love the holiday for what it is and the fact that it is the same from one year to another.

Most of us take part in those traditions because they give us a nostalgic feeling and we don’t stop to think why we are doing them. Perhaps, when you least expect it, you might even ask yourself why we do these things in the first place. After all, we do them, our parents and grandparents do them, and it has been that way for one generation after another.

Some Christmas traditions are steeped in Pagan rituals and go back thousands of years. Others are relative newcomers to the scene. An example of one tradition that is new (but surprisingly old) is the hanging of Christmas lights. Prepare to have your mind blown.

As it turns out, the tradition of stringing Christmas lights is not steeped in religion. It actually has to do with human innovation and invention.

In 1880, Thomas Edison was getting ready to secure a patent for the light bulb and he decided to light up his new invention outside of his lab in Menlo Park. He did it to get people in the holiday spirit and to introduce the light bulb to anyone who was watching. It was Edward Johnson, his associate, that was taken by the gesture and took the opportunity and ran with it.

Johnson started stringing together Edison’s bulbs in 1882 for use on Christmas trees. Those lights were red, white, and blue and each string had 80 electric bulbs.

Things didn’t catch on at first but in 1914, the price finally hit a level that made people swap out their Christmas tree candles for a much safer alternative.

It’s a part of American history that most people overlook, but it is one that continues as a yearly tradition down to this day.