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Untangling the History of Christmas Lights

Turning an idea into a tradition

Turning an idea into a tradition
  • Reporters described the electric lights on Edward Hibberd Johnson's Christmas tree as "a most picturesque and uncanny aspect." "It was brilliantly lighted... One can hardly imagine anything prettier."
  • Johnson turned his stunt into a tradition, doing more each year.
  • By 1894, President Cleveland put electric lights on the White House tree, and by the 1930s, coloured bulbs and cones were everywhere.

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The Precursor To The Christmas Tree
The Precursor To The Christmas Tree

Church records from the 15th and 16th centuries show that holly and ivy were bought in the winter. Private houses were also decorated with greenery at this time.

The precursor to the Christ...

The Origins of Christmas Trees

In Germany, "Paradise Plays" were performed to celebrate the feast day of Adam and Eve, which was on Christmas Eve. A tree of knowledge was represented by an evergreen fir with apples tied to its branches.

In 1419, a guild in Freiburg put up a tree decorated with apples, wafers, tinsel and gingerbread.

The Oldest Christmas Tree Markets
  • They were in present-day France and sold unadorned Christmas trees during the 17th century.
  • The first decorated indoor tree was recorded in 1605, in Strasbourg, decorated with roses, apples, wafers and other sweets.
  • Demand for Christmas trees grew so high in the 15th century that laws were passed in Strasbourg to prevent people from cutting pine branches.
  • In the 1530s, the region of Alsace was limited to one tree per household.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
The Twelve Days of Christmas

The first verse of the Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, evolved as a festive memory game. The list of objects or animals builds with each verse and forfeits are impos...

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

This carol reveals customs. Under the Tudor monarchs, wassailing and mumming were still practised, with carollers and players performing from door to door.

It was bad luck not to reward their efforts with food and drink, including the 'figgy pudding,' or Christmas pudding.

Deck the Halls

A favourite Welsh folk song during the 16th century we know today as Deck the Halls only acquired Christmassy words in the 19th century.

Deck the Halls had words that would not have suited the prim Victorians. In the 1860s, Thomas Oliphant changed the lines to suit the dancing melody and lively 'fa la la' chorus for the celebration of Christmas preparations.

The Christmas evolution
The Christmas evolution

Santa and his reindeer, the carols, the lights, and the massive consumer spending on gifts did not happen immediately upon the birth of Christ.

By the mid-1800s, the holiday had picked up v...

The creators of the modern American Christmas

Thomas Nast gave us our image of Santa, but Henry Bessemer figured out how to make steel rapidly, cheaply, and abundantly. He completely revolutionized some of the greatest of human industries.

His rails connected almost every corner of the United States, making it possible to move products and messages of love across the nation.

How the train propelled the idea of Christmas

Society's view was propelled by trains full of Christmas trees, Christmas cards, and Christmas gifts.

The Christmas tree came first as big business in the 19th century. Christmas trees were hauled by train from Maine to New York City. Along with the Christmas tree came the Christmas card. The last piece of the holiday was the tradition of giving gifts. A Times article in 1890 declared "an epidemic in giving and receiving presents".