Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Lighten Up the Holidays!
by Donna MacMeans
I imagine by now the gifts are purchased and wrapped, the cookies made and the house decorated - right? Time to kick back and lighten up. Now that the winter soltice has passed, the days are getting longer - did you notice? (grin). Longer days couldn't come a moment too soon for me. I think I'm one of those people who suffer from sunlight deprivation during the winter.
But I must admit - seeing all the outdoor Christmas lights help. I thought I might share a little history about Christmas lights (what else did you expect for an historical writer?) and some of the lighted homes around my neighborhood. Kudos go to my daughter who hung out the window with the camera as we drove around singing Christmas carols and looking at the lights.
Back in the 1600s, Christmas trees were lit by small candles secured to the branches by bits of wax. The tree didn't go up until Christmas Eve because it was such a huge fire hazard. I had thought that the tree skirt that wraps around the base of the tree was to hide the unsightly tree stand - but it appears it's main purpose was to protect the floor from the dripping wax of the candles.
By 1867, a candleholder with a counterweight was used on the trees - but still the threat of fire remained. It wasn't until 1903 that GE introduced a light bulb string for Christmas trees, but they were so darned expensive, the candles prevailed. But over the years, the lights became more economical. These were what my father used to refer to as "hot lights". Although they could be used on a tree, they were better for outdoor decorations as they heated up significantly after burning for any length of time. You can still see these on some outdoor decorations.
In 1946, the bubble light was introduced. I love bubble lights! My father always set out a minorah decoration (we're not Jewish) and topped it with bubble lights. They were so much fun to watch - the precursors of lava lamps (grin). The cat did love to watch (and swat) those bubbles.
In 1950, miniature lights were introduced which didn't throw off the heat so they were perfect for the tree. Disneyland decided they were perfect for outdoors as well and decorated the parks with them. What Disney does, the world imitates, so now miniature lights, also known as fairy lights, abound.
Have you noticed how many homes are decorated just in white lights? Boring, but practical, but still boring. Our house is done in all white lights - but that's because I'm in charge of the inside decorating. If I had my druthers, the house would be a color riot - but I must admit I like this house because of the owners sense of humor. Makes me smile whenever I drive by.
The next lighting innovation came in 1998 with strings of icicle lights. I love these as well. They're available in all colors. When first introduced, I used to see them hanging from rooflines to simulate the real thing. Now, however, they're used on to decorate trees. Speaking of trees - check this one out. Isn't it beautiful? I hope they don't take down the lights for a long, long time.
Sometime in this decade, guard deer were introduced. You know - those prefabricated wire deer covered in lights? Apparently every home must have a pair placed on the front lawn - at least in my neighborhood. Here's a pair.
This year the innovation is LED lights. These last longer and use less power and come in some pretty amazing colors - especially cobalt blue. I expect these will be more and more common and fairy lights will go the way of "hot lights."
How about you? Do you decorate outside the house? Do you prefer elegant lighting - lots of colors - or something along the lines of Chevy Chase's Christmas Vacation? How long do you leave them up? Have you gotten your Christmas shopping done yet? Are you ready for the big day? Don't forget someone will receive one of my books (their choice) and rooster cookie cutters & mix. So let's talk all things Christmas... Oh, and Anna, my daughter took this photo of penguins just for you.