Christmas lights, trees and Yule logs: a history

Christmas lights, trees and Yule logs: a history#

As Slade sing every ruddy year, “iiiiit’s Christmaaaaaas!”, and with the festive period comes the traditional tree and fairy lights.

Perhaps, as you stumble into your house after an embarrassing night at the office party, you may have pondered why you’ve got a cut-off tree festooned with flashing lights stuck in the corner of your room? Wonder no more…

Christmas lights, trees and Yule logs: a historyThe practice dates back to at least 1184 when no home was complete without a burning Yule Log, symbolising the hope that the sun would get his hat on and return the following year.

Christmas trees can be traced back to 16th century Northern Germany, with Britain’s royals getting in on the act in the early 1800s.

Queen Victoria helped popularise the concept of the modern tree with accompanying lights, excitedly squeaking away in her journal when she was 13 years old:

Christmas Eve 1832. 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..”.

The practice quickly spread to North America and Australia, although the hugely risky Victorian practice of sticking candles on trees (and then hoping the house didn’t burn down) led to insurance companies refusing to provide cover.

The far safer electrically illuminated Christmas tree came courtesy of Edward H. Johnson, an associate of inventor Thomas Edison, who unveiled his dazzling Christmas tree at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City on December 22, 1882 .

Hand-wired with 80 red, white and blue electric incandescent light bulbs the size of walnuts, it soon proved a hit and by the turn of the century, businesses started stringing up Christmas lights in their shop windows.

Electric Christmas lights remained out of reach for most punters (a single string retailed for the equivalent of $300 in 1900), who continued to live dangerously with candle-laden trees until the advent of affordable electric lights around 1930.

Since then, strings of illuminated tree lights have become as synonymous with Christmas as paper hats, family arguments and endless reruns of ‘It’s a Beautiful Life.’

Christmas lighting is now as cheap as chips and considerably safer than our risk-taking Victorians ancestors, employing incandescent light bulbs and, increasingly, the more energy efficient  light-emitting diodes (LEDs), meaning every home can be liberally dripping with flashing lights. We love it!

Here’s some garish uber-displays for your pleasure.

[Christmas trees], [Christmas lights] and [Gizmodo article].

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