When it comes to Christmas decorating ideas, the consumer is awash in choices every year – mini Christmas lights, purple, red, blue or green LED Christmas lights, candle lights, old-fashioned Christmas tree lights with torpedo-shaped bulbs, LED Christmas light nets – the options are endless.
As the owner of a small company that sells a unique kind of traditional Christmas Tree Candle, I enjoy watching trends in Christmas decorations and seeing what kind of Christmas tree lights people buy. This little light looms large in Christmas lore. It has a long and fascinating history.
Christmas Lights — History
It all started with the simple Christmas candle, which is credited to Martin Luther who, legend says, came up with the Christmas tree in the 16th century. The Christmas tree survived quietly for centuries until electric Christmas tree lighting came on the scene in the early 1900s and, as they say, the rest is history.
The first electric Christmas lights debuted in the White House in 1895, thanks to President Grover Cleveland. The idea began to catch on, but the lights were expensive, so only the wealthiest of the wealthy could afford them at first. GE began to offer Christmas light kits in 1903. And starting around 1917, electric Christmas lights on strings began to make their way into department stores. Costs gradually dropped and the biggest marketer of holiday lights, a company called NOMA, was wildly successful as consumers began to snap up the new-fangled lights across the country.
Many early Christmas bulbs were shaped to look like what they had replaced: the classic Christmas tree candle. The candle shape fell out of vogue, and in time new varieties shaped like glass balls, animals, lanterns and Santa figures hit the scene. A new and improved candle-shaped bubble light re-emerged later on in the 20th century. This one was filled with percolating colored liquid that cast a flickering light on the tree as the bulb grew warm. You can still occasionally find vintage bubble Christmas lights like these in flea markets or antique shops. Electric Christmas lights continued to hold sway into the 1980s.
Today’s consumers have been embracing LED Christmas lights as enthusiastically as their great-grandparents gobbled up the first generation of electric Christmas tree lights 90 years ago. Is the LED Christmas light close to the saturation point? Every year I think so, but then the manufacturers come out with a new twist – LED lights in a web, LED Christmas lights in a large mesh net, blinking LED Christmas tree lights or some other variation.
Hope for the LED-Weary Christmas Connoisseur
One thing is clear: LED Christmas lights are huge energy savers. That’s a good thing. But virtue has its price. LED illumination has a different optical quality — so different that some Christmas-lovers feel it is sterile and devoid of any warmth. LED-skeptic Christmas buffs who want to give their tree a real glow have been boxed in by a lack of choices — but persistence pays in the end. There are a few sources that supply the original Christmas Tree Candles and traditional Christmas Tree Candle Holders, and people are beginning to tap them as an alternative.
If LED Christmas lights are too soulless for you, but you don’t want to go back to the energy-gobbling electric lights you grew up with, consider switching to traditional Christmas Tree Candles this year. They’ve been around for centuries — much longer than the electric light. And they’re even greener than LED Christmas lights because they consume absolutely no electric power.
Christmas Off the Grid
Say the idea of an environmentally friendly, candle-powered Christmas tree appeals to you, and you’ve decided you “won’t take LED for an answer.” You would like to get off the grid and go candle this year. You’ll have to make a few choices – but the process of looking at the design options and figuring out what you like best is fun.
First, you won’t want to just melt the end of the candle and stick it on your Christmas tree (as Martin Luther is reported to have done). You’ll need Holders for your Christmas Tree Candles. Find a source of good-quality traditional metal Candle Holders. And make sure they’re German – they’re the best.
Second, decide what kind of Christmas Tree Candle Holders will look best. This is simply a matter of taste. There’s no right or wrong. The classic Clip On Candle Holder is a popular solution. It clamps on to the branch and has a swivel mechanism so you can adjust it. The Clip-On Christmas Tree Candle Holder is usually available in silver or gold.
The Pendulum Christmas Tree Candle Holder is an older design. It was first patented in the U.S. in 1867 by Charles Kirchhof. This model has a stem with a weight at the end, which balances the candle holder and helps it stay straight. This model generally has a ball-shaped (Kugel) weight or a star weight. All candle holders have a wax catcher to catch drips before they reach the carpet.
Third, get the right kind of Christmas Candle for your candle holders. The fit is crucial, so it’s not worth cutting corners or trying to substitute another kind of candle. The candle really has to be snug in the base of the holder for safety reasons. Birthday candles are too thin. Dining candles, tapers and many pyramid candles are too thick. Make sure you get genuine Christmas Tree Candles. Again, the best are from Germany.
Finally: Stay flexible. The advantage of Christmas tree candles is that they don’t restrict your overall design or look. You can use them with other Christmas decorations – for example, your favorite vintage, antique or contemporary ornaments or tree toppers – or virtually any other decorations you have. If you want, you can even use electric lights and Christmas candles together.
Virtue Has its Rewards
Christmas Tree Candles are Kilowatt-Killers. You can feel good about using them because they don’t draw a single watt of electricity. You can also pack them up with your other ornaments at the end of the season and use them again next year.
But the real payoff is aesthetic. The sight of a stately evergreen bathed in the soft light of Christmas candles is heart-stoppingly beautiful. Candlelight hushes the heart and casts a warm glow that electric Christmas lights and LED lights just can’t match. Candle power has a way of capturing the Christmas Spirit and spreading it among your family, guests and friends who will be seeing your tree over the holidays. Granted, you have to be careful and use common sense (position the candles so the flame won’t get close to anything and stay in the room). But the delight and magic of your candle-powered Christmas tree will last the entire season.
I am publishing a series of articles covering the history of Christmas lights, practical tips, and information about lighting your tree with Christmas Candles. Be on the lookout for these articles. If you are interested in Christmas traditions or are thinking about “going green” this year, you will find them informative and useful.