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History of Christmas Lights

Thomas Edison may be famous for the light bulb, but it was his partner and friend, Edward Hibberd Johnson, who had the bright idea of stringing bulbs around a Christmas tree in New York in 1882. By 1914, the lights were being mass produced and now some 150 million sets of lights are sold in the U.S. each year.

Christmas is an amazing time of year. There are so many things to do, to plan for and to see. One of those things is Christmas lights. Every year people dig them out or by the latest trend and decorate their trees, and their homes with these colorful and cheerful reminders of the holiday season. Christmas lights actually started out just as candles. These candles were attached to the tree using wax or pins. The practice began in Germany during the 17th century and over the next 200 or so years; it became an established practice in Germany and began to spread out into other countries of Eastern Europe.

The practice was originally started in order to bring illumination to the ornaments that were placed on the tree. This practice continued until around 1900 when candleholders became popular and people started to use them instead of wax or pins to hold the candles to the trees. The purpose however, stayed the same. It was to illuminate and make those beautiful works of art that decorated the tree become even more visible.

It was not until around 1915 that glass balls and lanterns were also used replacing the candles on trees as the main form of illuminating and providing glittering beauty to these wonderful symbols of Christmas with the masses. The world of Christmas lights really became something amazing with the invention of the light bulb and electricity. In 1882, the first Christmas tree to be lit by electric lights was seen in New York. It was lit by Edward Johnson who happened to be a friend of Thomas Edison. The Christmas tree was lit with beautiful red, white, and blue lights, which still favorites of many today. It also led to the creation of the first string of Christmas lights, were easily massed produced and were available for sale around 1890. This of course was the start of the wonderful traditions we have today of placing strings of Christmas lights around our trees and homes to liven the holiday.

The first White House Christmas tree to have electric lights was seen in 1895 and lit by President Cleveland.

The first sets of sting lights were too expensive for the majority of people to afford but by 1900, many department stores were using Christmas lights to liven up their holiday displays and attract customers. The American Eveready company produced the first Christmas light set however in 1903.

The first sets were expensive $12 for 24 lights which in today?s money would be about $80.00, too expensive for the masses however, a wonderful idea was struck and Christmas lights became available for rent at a much cheaper price allowing them to be used by everyone to liven up the holiday displays in homes and businesses. These lights were created by GE. They came in seven colors, clear, frosted, green, blue, purple, ruby, and opal.

In 1917, a fire caused by the Christmas lights led to some reworking and Albert Sadacca came up with safe lights, which helped to reduce the risk of fire from Christmas light strings.

Outdoor light displays, the ones that see us driving around every year to see the variety of Christmas lighting at homes or even see us visiting specially designed light shows and displays with 1000s of Christmas light bulbs was started in North America. The idea however, was catching and these beautiful displays quickly became a worldwide phenomenon for everyone to enjoy. These lighting displays were started after the first safe outdoor Christmas light bulbs and Christmas light strings were seen in 1927.

Novelty lights, started to make an appearance during the 1930?s as a way to continue spreading the holiday spirit and increase light sales during the depression. This, of course, lead to the wonderful world of snowman lights, icicle lights, and other holiday themed lighting representations.

The Bubble Christmas light became big after World War II. The bubble light was a light that contained a liquid that was boiled inside the light. They were produced by the NOMA electric company initially and then spread. They were incredibly popular lights in the late 1940’s in fact, because of the materials they used not only did they bubble happily but also gave a slight tinkling noise as parts of the plug used for holding the chemicals came loose to rattle around as the lights bubbled. These lights were produced until around the 1970’s. However, many of them are still in use today, working as wonderfully as they did between the 1940’s when they were first introduced, and the 1970’s.

Aluminum trees became popular after the 1950’s, which lead Christmas light producers to come up with a form of multi colored rotating flood light in order to compensate for the use of such trees. This of course, helped to lead to the use of such lighting in outdoor displays and increased both the attractiveness and versatility of them.

Recent years have seen no drop in the love neither of Christmas lights nor in their ever-expanding uses and the creativity of displays created with them. In fact, some people keep them use them all year round as lighting for various purposes.

Recent years have seen an increase in things like tube and track lighting. These are small mini lights in solid plastic tubing. They come in a variety of wonderful colors and provide wonderful additions for outlining. LED Christmas lights have also come up in recent years. These lights take up less power, and really show the advancement of Christmas lights. They are not easily viewed during the day but create amazing displays at night.

Christmas lights are one of the symbols of the holiday season. They are versatile ways to create beautiful displays. Many people have created a tradition out of decorating the tree, the home both inside and out and the yard with Christmas lights. It is a fun way to bring family and even friends together in a creative and fun way.

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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: An American Christmas Tradition

A Visit from St. Nicholas, more commonly known as The Night Before Christmas and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas from its first line, is a poem first published anonymously in 1823 and later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, who claimed authorship in 1837.

The poem has been called “arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American” and is largely responsible for some of the conceptions of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today. It has had a massive effect on the history of Christmas gift-giving. Before the poem gained wide popularity, American ideas had varied considerably about Saint Nicholas and other Christmastide visitors. A Visit from St. Nicholas eventually was set to music and has been recorded by many artists.

It’s a pretty simple story: on Christmas Eve, a father is awakened by the sound of St. Nick plopping down the chimney to distribute gifts before riding away. Other holiday favorites, such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, “Charlie Brown Christmas,” and the Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials, quickly spring to mind while attempting to comprehend how readers can appreciate such a simple tale. All of these programs include the holiday, which may explain why we keep watching them at this time of year.

The poem lends itself to various variants thanks to its simple plot. It does not attempt to explain the meaning of Christmas; rather, it allows readers to enjoy the thrilling idea that there is a Santa Claus and the excitement felt on Christmas Eve. The poem’s charm lies in the details: According to Nancy Marshall, The Night Before Christmas is a “a masterpiece of genre word-painting,” that is visually creative.

Original Handwritten Manuscript, credit: NY Historical Soc.

The poem helps popularize and cement a distinct Christmas iconography in our contemporary culture, from stockings hung by the chimney to visions of sugarplums, from fresh fallen snow to Santa on a sleigh pulled by eight familiar reindeers, from Santa’s rosy cheeks to his belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly.

Nonetheless, it leaves plenty to the reader’s imagination, allowing the narrative to be imagined in a variety of creative approaches. Illustrations by self-taught American folk artist “Grandma Moses” (1860-1961) might provide a nostalgic undertone to the Christmas season. Roger Duvoisin (1900-1980), a Swiss-born illustrator and writer, illustrates the poem with a splash of brilliant colors and quirky comedy. Howard Finster, an American folk artist and pastor, has created imagery that is more bizarre and outsider in nature (1916-2001).

Every reworking of Moore’s classic poem allows the artists and authors to inject themselves into the story, making each scene both familiar and unfamiliar. Each subsequent adaptation of The Night Before Christmas contributes to the domestication and, without a doubt, Americanization of the gift-bearing saint, changing him from Moore’s pipe-smoking, elf-like St. Nick to a more commercialized red-suited, life-size Santa Claus.

But who says Santa’s outfit can’t be buckskin, green, plaid, or giraffe-print, as in the Native American Night Before Christmas? Moore never stated which color should be used for the outfit. In reality, another prominent New Yorker, Thomas Nast, did not develop a fully standardized picture of Santa Claus in his distinctive red coat and white beard until the late nineteenth century.

While Clement C. Moore may not have expected his poem to be more than a source of pleasure for his family and friends, his legacy has left us with something little but impressive, simple yet inventive, lasting but always open to fresh interpretation.

As early as 1932, a modern version of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was available. Everyone who likes and looks forward to the poem over the holidays has a favorite rendition.  You can pick up a copy here for $1800!

In the meanwhile, till the next recounting…

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

Read and print the full poem here

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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: Full Text of the Classic Poem

By Clement Clarke Moore

Read all about the history of this American tradition here

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;


“Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DONNER and BLITZEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!

Download Twas the Night before Christmas Poem (Original) printable PDF

Read all about the history of this American tradition here

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5 Creative Christmas Cookie Swap Ideas Your Friends and Family Will Love!

Are Cookie Swaps still a thing?

Christmas Cookie Swaps have been established for almost a century, and the concept of Christmas cookies was introduced to the United States by the Dutch in the 1600s.

In this brief holiday article, we’ll talk about 5 innovative ideas for hosting a Christmas cookie swap that your friends and family will like. The prospect of returning home with a selection of delectable Christmas treats is always enticing. Preparation, performance nervousness, and a time pressure detract from the entire appeal! On Quiet Hollow, our Happy Hostess concepts will aim to remove such barriers. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Happy Hostess idea, we approach entertaining from a biblical hospitality perspective, with the goal of blessing our guests rather than impressing them!

Cookie Swap Basics (The Rules)

How many guests? Unless you’re a glutton for punishment or you have help and it’s not at your house, I would suggest inviting 3-5 people. A small number also makes it easier for the guests when making and bringing the cookies. Since this will be an informal event, individual invitation texts would be totally appropriate. If you wanted to add some pizazz just pop in some color or a graphic, you could use Canva or PicMonkey or even Evites to help.

When?

  • You know your friends, but an evening get-together is typical. Maybe a week night that would be less likely for other events. 1.5 to 2 hours should be plenty of time.

How many cookies?

  • Typically figure to have enough from a half to a whole dozen for your guests to take home. If it’s just a cookie ‘eating’ party have each guest bring a dozen. Request in the invite that they let you know which type of cookie they’ll be bringing.

What else?

  • Decide what snacks and drinks you want to have on hand. Something salty and/or savory is smart with all the sweetness involved. The easier and cheaper your food and drink and paper products the better! Cocoa, coffee, and some cold drinks would be perfect. But, if your crowd is hoping for some hot toddies or other Christmasy drinks those could be fun as well.

#1 The Store-Bought Cookie Swap

Okay, so how do we pull that off? Easy girlfriend. You make the rule that no one bakes! All the cookies need to be store-bought! No mixing or baking or ingredients of any kind. So, the Store-Bought Cookie Swap Party could be a blast. Gosh, it even sounds like a TV show on the Food Network or something.

#2 The Themed Christmas Cookie Swap

Your theme could be “All-Chocolate” or “No-Bake” or “Iced Cookies” or “Vintage Cookies”, whatever comes to mind! Ask your friends what they think and go with the most popular. You could broaden the theme to the rest of the get-together. Serve hot chocolate, or you could have your guests dress in vintage Christmas outfits!

#3 The No-Bake Cookie Swap

Have your guests find and bring anything that didn’t need to be baked in the oven. They could be no-bake cookies, or candy, or popcorn balls. The stovetop or microwave can be used, just not the oven. Have fun with it and you should have some tasty treats to share!

#4 The Cookie Decorating Party

This really isn’t a Christmas Cookie Swap. But, there are still cookies involved! Each guest should bring a dozen or two shaped sugar cookies (home-made or store-bought). You can provide colored frosting or a lot of white frosting with food coloring available. You could also have sprinkles and other special things to add.

Provide a container or plate and let your guests pick an assortment of fancy cookies to take home.

#5 Your Favorite Cookie Swap Party

What are your favorite Christmas cookies? Build your party around those. Assign each to a guest and provide them with the recipe. They could be getting a new recipe and you’re getting your favorites. Win-Win! Here’s a post from last year all about Vintage Christmas cookies from my past, lots of memories for me and great cookies for you!

Let’s Wrap This Up

A Christmas Cookie Swap is a wonderful way to get friends and family together to enjoy the holiday season. In keeping with our Happy Hostess philosophy of low-stress, guest-centered service. For further information, see How to Be a Stress-Free Happy Hostess.

We’d love to know which Cookie Swap you and your pals choose to undertake! Alternatively, choose which one you believe would be the most enjoyable.

Above all, I wish you a wonderful Christmas! May you discover fresh and meaningful ways to commemorate the birth of Jesus. In addition, I encourage you to think of new ways to include the Christmas narrative in your Cookie Swap.

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History of Christmas Fruitcake

History of Christmas Fruitcake

You may be wondering:

“My friendly neighborhood historian is writing an article on fruitcake? Is he as nutty as a fruitcake?”

And therein begins our tale…

The Phrase “Nutty as a Fruitcake”

Nutty as a fruitcake was first recorded in 1935, but the adjective nutty meaning “crazy or eccentric” goes back to 1821. I admit that I have been called eccentric. But more importantly…

December 27 is National Fruitcake Day.

What is Fruitcake?


It’s a pastry, bread, or cake made of nuts, dried or candied fruits, spices, grain, and optionally soaked in booze. There are many recipes. It was a special food for weddings or Christmas since at least the 18th and 19th centuries.

Origin of Fruitcake

While some historians trace it back to ancient Egypt as a food buried with the dead — it keeps for years — fruitcake became popular in ancient Rome some 2,000 years ago when they served a cake called satura that was made of pomegranate seeds, raisins, pine nuts, and barley mash baked in a ring-shaped confection.

During the Middle Ages, honey, spices, and candied fruit became popular ingredients.

With the growth and geographical expansion of the British Empire following the 16th century, its Colonies provided sugar; in the New World of the West Indies, cheap brown sugar also produced rum. Fruits were brought in from the Mediterranean area along with nuts.

In the 19th century, fruitcake made with butter became traditional as a wedding cake in England. Both Princess Diana and Kate Middleton served fruitcakes at their weddings.

Americans inherited this confection from the British and called it Christmas cakes or plumb cakes. Note, this is not the same as “figgy pudding.” The latter is steamed for hours before serving, and usually, the generous addition of alcohol is set on fire before presenting.

Fruitcake’s high sugar concentration gives it moisture-stabilizing properties, making it resistant to mold and bacterium, making it effectively eternal. According to the Guinness organization, at a food museum in Switzerland, a 4,176-year-old cake was found in an Egyptian tomb.

Fruitcake in the Media

How did fruitcake become a slur? How did it become the spumoni of the pastry world?

Truman Capote‘s 1956 short story “A Christmas Memory” describes a time spent with his eccentric cousin, who would commence fruitcake-making when she deemed it proper “fruitcake weather.” Whiskey played a large part in the production of the fruitcake.

Fruitcake oneBut it’s perhaps the former host of “The Tonight Show,” Johnny Carson, who best determined fruitcake’s place in the modern psyche. Deriding the loaf as a holiday reject, he once claimed that,

Egyptian archaeologists discover the world’s oldest fruitcake.

“The worst gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

He was not the first to deride the seasonal loaf, but this anecdote persists.

Fruitcake around the world
Italy’s dense, sweet-and-spicy panforte (literally, “strong bread”) dates back to the 13th-century Tuscan town of Sienna.

Genoa’s is denser and called pandolce or “sweet bread.”

Milan has more of a bread loaf consistency confection that is lighter but still includes dried candied fruits.

 

One Italian restaurant in South Kensington, London hangs panettone in foil-wrapped packages from cords above the diners, as decorations and advertisements.

Germany’s stollen is a tapered loaf coated with melted butter and dusted with powdered sugar that’s more bread-like in consistency. It has been a Dresden delicacy since the 1400s and has its own annual StollenFest. It was only after Pope Innocent VIII granted the use of butter in the 1400s, lifting the church regulation, that milk and butter became stollen ingredients. There are Austrian and Dutch recipes as well. I get mine at a local Dutch bakery.

Black cake in the British Caribbean Islands, a boozy descendant of Britain’s plum pudding where the fruit is soaked in rum for months, or even as long as a year. Yo ho!

Poland and Bulgaria have keks, a loaf-shaped sponge cake.

When I was young, my family enjoyed Romanian cozonak during the holidays and weddings.

Portugal has its bolo rei, where each cake has a single fava bean inside. Whoever gets the slice with the bean is supposed to buy the cake next year!

Vietnam has a fruitcake called banh bo mut, but that’s made for the Lunar New Year.

Fruitcake celebrated

If December 27 is National Fruitcake Day, less than a month later, it’s the Great Fruitcake Toss Day.

About 10 miles from me, nearby Manitou Springs, Colorado, this year celebrates the 25th anniversary of its Great Fruitcake Toss. Since 1996 people have found an alternative to simply re-gifting their fruitcakes. They call it “recycling.”

Every year, usually on the first Saturday in January — but this year, on January 23, 2021 — Manitou Springs had a contest to see who can throw their fruitcakes the farthest and with the greatest accuracy.

Great Fruitcake Toss Day

People build various projectile machines: catapults, surgical tubing slingshots, pneumatic canons, or just hurl the cakes by hand (you can rent one if you don’t bring your own.) To make up for all the lost food, everyone competing has to bring a donation to the local food bank — anything except fruitcake.

The Too Good to Toss Fruitcake Bake-off allows local bakers to compete against each other for the coveted title of Fruitcake King or Queen as determined by the community. Winners are based on who makes the best organic, non-GMO, natural fruitcakes.

 

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The Complete History of Christmas Lights, from Edison to LED

Every December, if you were like me, you grew up surrounded by Christmas lights– and you loved it.

When December arrives, we are quickly overwhelmed with a sense of warmth and pleasure because we know it is Christmas time. From the scent of evergreen trees to the nip of the chilly winter air, we are instantly filled with a feeling of warmth and joy because we know it is Christmas time.

But, let’s face it, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Christmas lights.

But do you know where the custom of Christmas lights began? It goes back a lot further than you may believe. Let’s take a trip down memory lane with Christmas lights…

 

1184: The light of Christmas takes shape

 

Hauling a Yule log at Christmas, 1832

For centuries, light has been used to represent wintertime festivities. Beginning with the medieval pagan celebration of Yule which marked the Winter solstice, the earliest recorded date of which is 1184 (although it may have been much earlier), the light of a burning Yule log was used to represent the light which warded off the evil spirits of the world during the long winter nights

Later, Christianity would incorporate Yule traditions into Christian festivities, lighting up Yule logs on Christmas Eve until as recently as the 19th century. A similar tradition of light as an important part of Wintertime traditions can be seen echoed in various Christian Christmastime traditions including Candlemas, Christingle, and Luminaria.

1660: Candle-lit Christmas trees are born

Steel engraving of Martin Luther’s Christmas Tree, from Sartain’s Magazine, circa 1860.

The first recorded reference to the practice of placing candles on trees was said to come from Germany in 1660. But it was nearly 100 years later, in 1747, that the Pennsylvania Dutch brought us perhaps the first official advent of the Christmas tree in the “lichstock” (or light stick), which was a large wooden pyramid lit by candles.

Later, in 1832, Harvard professor Charles Follen would borrow inspiration from the Dutch and go on to decorate an evergreen with candles in what is believed to be the first rendition of the traditional lighted Christmas tree in the U.S. Frederick Artz would then go on to invent the clip-on candle holder in 1878, a device that securely fastened each candle to the branch which was used. The invention was used by families in the U.S. for the next several decades.

1846: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert make candle-lit Christmas trees popular

Victoria and Albert gathered around the Christmas tree with their children.

 

Victoria and Albert gathered around the Christmas tree with their children.

Between the time Follen decorated the first Christmas tree with candles in the U.S. and Arts created the clip-on candle holder, across the pond the royal family consisting of then Queen Victoria and husband Prince Albert were illustrated as gathering around a candle-lit Christmas tree in the London news.

As expected, this created quite a craze and made candle-lit Christmas trees wildly popular in the U.K. An edited version of this illustration eventually made its way to the U.S. and further influenced the states to adopt the practice.

1879: Edison invents first string lights

Thomas Edison’s first public demonstration of incandescent lighting in 1879.

In 1879, Edison finalized the world’s first long-lasting carbon filament lamps, which he used to light up his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey on New Year’s Eve of that year.

But Edison wasn’t just trying to fill others with the holiday spirit, his light show was actually a bid to win a contract to power all of Manhattan with electricity. In the same way, commercial businesses have continued to use Christmas lights to drive customers during the holiday season to the present day.

1882: Edward H. Johnson decorates the first electric-lit Christmas tree

The first electric light Christmas tree, 1882.

Edison wasn’t just the inventor of the modern Christmas light, he inadvertently played an important role in the invention of the modern electric-lit Christmas tree as well.

During the Christmas of 1882, then vice president of Edison’s Electric Light Company Edward H. Johnson decided to hang Edison’s lights up on a Christmas tree. The event was largely ignored by the press, but word took off when a small Detroit newspaper featured the story.

From that day on, Johnson earned the title, “Father of the Electric Christmas Tree”.

1895: Christmas lights enter the White House

 

The White House Christmas tree in 1899, just before Roosevelt took office.

A decade later, after Johnson’s electric-lit Christmas tree, President Grover Cleveland requested an elaborate Christmas light display to please his three young daughters. Similar to the illustration of Queen Victoria that made waves in the U.K. half a century earlier, this photograph helped spread the practice of lighting evergreen trees during Christmas time.

This was an important moment in the history of Christmas lights, especially in the U.S., because electric lights still weren’t trusted by the public (despite the fact that candle-lit Christmas trees posed a much greater fire risk).

1903: General Electric sells the first Christmas light kits

 

Early 1900s ad featuring General Electric Christmas lights.

More than two decades after Edison’s first Christmas lights lit up Menlo Park, Edison’s General Electric began selling Decorative and Miniature Lamp kits that would light up Christmas trees all around the country.

 

Original G.E. ad for their ‘then’ new Electric Lighting Outfit. The lights cost $12.00 to rent. That would be more than $300 in today’s dollars.

All electric appliances like toasters, irons, and extras like Christmas lights had to be connected to an existing wall or ceiling light socket.

That is…if you could afford it. The only problem with Edison’s first Christmas light kits is they were expensive and therefore ended up being reserved for the wealthy. To give you a better idea, back then a single set of lights cost $12.00 to rent for the holiday season. In contrast, that would run you more than $300 in today’s dollars.

1919: GE introduces the flame-shaped MAZDA lamp

 

A 1920s ad from G.E for their MAZDA Lamps.

Now that the Christmas light industry had officially kicked off with Edison’s Christmas light kit, it was time for the U.S. to do what it does best: innovate.

Over the next two decades (and beyond), string lights became more powerful, longer-lasting, and perhaps most importantly at the time: less expensive. By 1919, G.E. made its first major innovation by debuting its flame-shaped bulbs using MAZDA tungsten filament. G.E.’s original round bulbs were then discontinued by 1922.

1920: The First Outdoor Christmas Light Show

Christmas Tree Lane and the colorful lights of the Balian Mansion.

Christmas Tree Lane and the colorful lights of the Balian Mansion have become beloved parts of area tradition

Around the same time as G.E. was debuting their flame-shaped bulbs and the innovation of Christmas lights was taking off in general with new light displays such as light snowmen, saints, and Santa Claus, the first outdoor Christmas light shows were taking off throughout the country as well.

One of the several signs indicating Christmas Tree Lane as a California State Landmark.

Most notably was the Santa Rosa Avenue Christmas Tree Lane show started by Frederick Nash in Altadena, California. Since 1920, Christmas Tree Lane has been lit every single year (with the exception of the period during World War II) for resident’s enjoyment.

1925: First widespread commercial sales of Christmas lights

Original NOMA Christmas Lites shown above.

NOMA was the largest Christmas lighting company in the world for all of the years of its operation prior to 1965.

With the steep price tag of Christmas lights still in place (although somewhat more accessible than before), candles were still a go-to option for most lower-income families. That is, until Albert Sadacca, a teen at the time out of New York City, decided to repurpose the white novelty lights his family had sold for years by turning them into colored bulbs. As a result, a cheaper and more accessible Christmas light was born.

Over the next several years, Sadacca’s National Outfit Manufacturer’s Association Electric Company (or NOMA for short) would take over the industry once cornered by G.E. and become the largest Christmas light manufacturer in the world for roughly 40 years. In addition, the company would go on to make several significant light innovations.

1946: NOMA debuts new bubble lights

 

Yes, before you ask those are bubbles inside of a Christmas light. In 1946, NOMA brought what was called the “bubble light” from the U.K. to the U.S. with an American patent. Within the plastic light casing, methylene chloride was heated to a very low boiling point, just enough to where it would visibly bubble through the plastic casing, hence the “bubble” light.

Despite the odd and somewhat gimmicky nature of the bubble light it swept the country and was incredibly popular for its time. We’re mesmerized!

1950s: The aluminum Christmas tree phase

 

With the 1950s Space Age came the advent, and resulting popularity, of the aluminum Christmas tree. A tree that was fireproof (finally!), never died nor needed water, and offered a space-age feel was too good to pass up.

Why was this significant? Because aluminum acts as a conductor, meaning Christmas lights couldn’t be placed on them. Instead of lights on the tree itself, people would use an illuminated color wheel like the one below. The wheel would spin around, illuminating the tree’s surface and making it appear as if it were lit:

 

Harmony House Roto-Wheels were used to illuminate aluminum Christmas trees.

Unfortunately for Christmas light companies at the time, the popularity of the aluminum Christmas tree lasted over a decade. As a result, the industry saw a significant drop in sales, and in 1966 NOMA, then the largest Christmas light manufacturer in the world officially filed for bankruptcy.

It’s not known exactly when the last U.S. manufacturer stopped making lights, but by 1978 nearly all U.S. light manufacturers had gone out of business or switched to foreign-made sets.

1966: GE takes Christmas lights foreign-made with Merry Midget lights (and the house-lighting tradition is born)

 

With NOMA out of the picture and the U.S. Christmas light industry still reeling, G.E. (who was still in the game) decided to bring manufacturing overseas. However, in good news, the result was that Christmas lights one again underwent a drop in price.

G.E.’s new Merry Midget mini lights (which are still available today) were smaller, cheaper, and more outdoor-friendly, so people began lighting their houses all over the country with greater intensity. Although houses had been lit before this, the practice wasn’t very common until the creation of G.E.’s Merry Midget lights, hence the birth of the widespread tradition of lighting your home with Christmas lights during the holiday season.

1970s-1990s: Accelerated innovation and the massive expansion of the Christmas light tradition

 

With the invention of the mini light offering a bright but low-cost and low-wattage lighting source, the U.S. went crazy. In true American fashion, people began decorating houses with huge amounts of lights in a bid to outdo their neighbors and design a bigger and better spectacle than the next person.

This tradition continued over the next two decades until the present day, where shows like ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight brought such competitions to major television.

1998 to today: LED Christmas lights take over

From 1998 until the present day, a new kind of light quickly took over and has dominated ever since.

The LED Christmas light, LED standing for “light-emitting diode”, lasted longer and was more efficient than the mini light. The LED light uses 95% less energy and lasts up to 100,000 hours, making it more efficient than the traditional mini light by a longshot. In addition, LED lights didn’t have the same problem as older Christmas light models where if one light went out the entire strand was done. With LEDs, if one light went out the rest of the strand continued to stay lit (and you could then buy a replacement bulb to fill in the strand).

However, in addition to the already game-changing benefits of LED Christmas lights, as opposed to previous light models LEDs are also shock resistant, vibration resistant, and some models are even moisture-resistant to protect from the Winter rain to top it off.

To fit with the times, LEDs are also environmentally friendly, with the strand being recyclable once it reaches its end.

The history of Christmas lights has been long and eventful and no one knows what will happen next. But one thing is for sure– the future looks bright (really, really bright).

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The History of A Charlie Brown Christmas

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

In his first television appearance, Charlie Brown asks this question, and it’s one we often ask ourselves after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Since its debut on CBS on December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas has given an answer.

Generations of fans have enjoyed the program, which features now-iconic characters such as Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, and Lucy. However, the special wasn’t always the huge hit that we now associate with it. Let’s take a look at A Charlie Brown Christmas’s history.

Charlie Brown’s Beginnings

The Peanuts comic strip, created by Charles M. Schulz in 1950, grew in popularity over the next two decades. Advertisers became interested in collaborating with Schulz after his figures appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1965. After failing to sell a documentary about Schulz and his work, documentarian Lee Mendelson decided to create a half-hour Charlie Brown Christmas special for the Coca-Cola Company on the spur of the moment. (Yes, the Christmas special with the anti-commercialization message started as sponsored material.) Even more strangely, it was sponsored by Coca-Cola, the corporation most known for commercializing Santa Claus.)

Mendelson confessed in a 2011 interview with Time magazine that he did not contact Schulz before agreeing to the arrangement. “I think I just sold A Charlie Brown Christmas,” he told Schulz later. “It’s something you’re going to write tomorrow,” Mendelson said when Schulz inquired what it was. The two completed the presentation in just a day, and Coca-Cola took up the show barely six months before it was scheduled to air.

‘Good grief’

With limited time and money, the production had to overcome a number of challenges. Schulz’s characters have never been on television before, with the exception of a few automobile advertisements. Animators had to figure out how to bring the characters to life while staying true to the tone and aesthetic of the comic strip. Mendelson was unable to locate a lyricist for the opening musical piece due to a lack of funding. So he scribbled the lyrics to “Christmas Time Is Here” on the back of an envelope himself. They finished the special in less than a week, with little time to spare.

Schulz, Mendelson, and director Bill Melendez also made a number of bold, unconventional moves that left management perplexed. They picked a jazz soundtrack, for example, which is unusual for a children’s program. Linus’ passionate statement, taken from Luke 2: 8–14 in the King James Version, also aroused some eyebrows. On television, Scripture was rarely (if ever) read.

Melendez also used real children to voice the characters, which was rare at the time. The only performers in the cast with prior professional acting experience were Peter Robbins and Christopher Shea, who played Charlie Brown and Linus, respectively. The Peanuts characters speak with an unique lilt because the filmmakers had to feed lines to the kids one at a time. (To save money, Melendez voiced Snoopy, a role he would return in all future Peanuts specials and films.)

Despite the production team’s efforts to overcome obstacles and make daring creative decisions in order to complete the special in a short amount of time, network executives were dissatisfied with the final result. They thought it was sluggish, unprofessional, and tone-deafening. They anticipated the program would fail since it defied many of the TV traditions of the day.

From a Coca-Cola commercial to a Christmas classic, there’s something for everyone.

Despite network executives’ reservations, reviewers and viewers alike praised the program. The production crew was buoyed by an early good review from Time magazine, which was quickly followed by acclaim from other media. Only Bonanza finished ahead of the special in its time slot. In 1966, A Charlie Brown Christmas won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Programming, while CBS was honored with the coveted Peabody Award in 1965 for the program.

Peanuts, of course, grew in popularity over time. In reality, several of Schulz’s most well-known characters, such as Peppermint Patty, Woodstock, and Franklin, predate the program. The animation style, music, and overall tone of the Christmas special were utilized as a pattern for future Charlie Brown programs over the years, including It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!, by Mendelson, Melendez, and Schulz. Other short Christmas classics, such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, arose from the half-hour format. Even the jazz artist Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack has become a masterpiece in its own way.

Every year, the special airs on television, but now on ABC rather than CBS. It’s been edited a few times throughout the years. Most versions omit a short mention to Coca-Cola in the original broadcast’s start, and some of the artwork has been cleaned up by animators.

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A Brief History of Christmas Cookies

Why do we eat cookies for Christmas? For lots of people, it’s not Christmas without cookies. Our kids leave cookies out for Santa, we spend weeks baking and decorating our cookies, and there’s always a cookie plate at any party.

The gingerbread man has become synonymous with Christmas. But how did cookies come to be such an important symbol of Christmas?

Gingerbread

Cookies have been around for a long time (possibly as droplets of grain paste poured on hot pebbles surrounding a fire), but they were linked with Christmas in Europe in the 1500s.

Gingerbread was a similar delicacy, but rules confined its baking to guildsmen. During the holidays, however, these limits were eased, and individuals were permitted to create their own at home, creating a particularly special once-a-year treat.

Gingerbread developed during the Crusades and was initially prepared using breadcrumbs that were cooked with honey and strongly spiced. It was dried after being pounded into cookie boards (carved slabs of wood with religious motifs).

Gingerbread has developed to become more secular and to incorporate more contemporary components. When speculaas (gingerbread cookies) were molded into animal and human figures and used as holiday decorations, it became linked with Christmas.

Cookie Trees

Germans are partly to blame for the association between Christmas trees and Christmas sweets. Alsatians hung oblaten (decorated communion wafers) on their tannenbaums as early as 1597.

In the 1800s, Americans hanged Barnum’s Animal Cracker boxes from trees (the boxes were designed for this purpose). Today, some individuals continue the practice by hanging fake gingerbread men on their Christmas trees.

Cut-Out Cookies

In recent Christmas cookie history, cut-out cookies have become almost universally linked with the holidays in the United States. These biscuits may be traced back to mumming, a Christmas ritual in colonial territories when the Church of England was powerful.

Christmas tales were played out in mumming, and food was utilized to assist represent the story. Yule dows were cut-outs created in this custom, which were frequently in the likeness of the infant Jesus.

As window decorations in the 1800s, Pennsylvania Dutch children made enormous cut-out cookies. Around the same period, Yule dows resurfaced and were dubbed Yule dollies. They were created with tin cutters in the shape of people and beautifully adorned with icing (much like today’s gingerbread men).

The face was usually constructed from a scrap of paper cut from magazines, which had to be removed before the cookie could be eaten. They were divisive because some people believed the cookies were not pious enough (i.e., not depicting Jesus).

Santa became linked with Christmas in the 1840s, and dollies depicting him with a scrap face were created. Some of these cookies were so intricately adorned that they weren’t meant to be eaten (such as today’s gingerbread homes).

Another connection to Santa comes from the Dutch, who thought that on Christmas, Black Peter, Saint Nicholas’ assistant, threw pepernoten sweets about.

Moravian Cookies

Moravians were a Protestant group that emerged in the 1740s and were famous for making cookie pyramids as Christmas decorations for their Christmas Eve ceremonies. Many people today associate spicy Moravian sweets with Christmas.

Cookies for Santa

Have you ever wondered why Santa is given cookies to fuel his one-night journey? Historians say the custom started during the Great Depression as a means for parents to promote their children’s generosity. The custom endured, and Santa is unlikely to require a smaller outfit any time soon.

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Check out these Christmas Commercials from the 1950s and ’60s

I love laughing at the past. Ha, you would have thought we’d have flying (and folding) automobiles, along with robot maids by now.  Boy were we wrong.

That’s why I like these Christmas commercials from the 1950s and 1960s so much. There’s something undeniably wonderful – nay, EGGNOG’y – about watching Santa carry around a carton of cigarettes to hawk to all the good little boys(‘ parents), or listening to a little girl say, “When I grow up, I want to be a mommy” while playing with a Betsy Wetsy doll.

Camel Cigarettes

Best Line: “Oh, cartons of Camels are sure to please/Besides they look so handsome under the Christmas tree.”

Viceroy Cigarettes

Best Line: “Well, Christmas morning was merry and bright/The perfect gift: the taste that’s right.”

Lucky Strike Cigarettes

Best Line: “Friends, here’s a wonderful Christmas gift for anyone who smokes, because it says, ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Smoking!’ 200 times.”

Betsy Wetsy Doll

Best Line: “When I grow up, I want to be a mommy.”

Hoover Vacuum

Best Line: “Give her what she really wants for Christmas: [a vacuum cleaner].”

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9 Bizarre Christmas Cards from the 1800s

Victorians immediately embraced the new custom when the first Christmas card was delivered in 1843. Here are just a few of the amazingly strange cards we discovered.

Frogs and Insects

Victorians put a dark and twisted spin on their seasonal greetings. Some of the more popular cover models included anthropomorphic frogs and insects

St. Nicholas

An English legend popular during the Victorian era said that St. Nicholas recruited the Devil to help with his deliveries. Together, they determined which children had been naughty or nice. A Christmas postcard with an illustration of Santa Claus attempting to put a frightened child into his sack of presents.

Jovial Froggies

This card reads: “A hearty Christmas greeting. Four jovial froggies a-skating would go; They had asked their mamma, but she’d sternly said “No?” And they all came to grief in a beautiful row. Theres a sweet Christmas moral for one not too slow. Just go!”

Christmas Clown

As the popularity of Christmas cards grew, Victorians demanded more novelty. This 1868 Victorian Christmas card features a clown.

Race to the Finish

The Victorians loved natural history, which might explain why a mouse rides a lobster on this 1880 card, which wishes the recipient “Paix, Joie, Sante, Bonheur,” or “Peace, Joy, Health and Happiness.” circa 1880.

Snowball Fight

Two women roll Father Christmas through the woods in a giant snowball in this card. Why is Father Christmas in a giant snowball on this 1879 card? There’s no telling, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to end well.

Jack the Giant Killer

“Jack the Giant Killer,” a cat version, by 19th-century artist Louis Wain

Good Digestion

“A hearty Christmas to you all! May good digestion wait on appetite.”
Christmas card designs were made to serve as conversation pieces as much as they were made to celebrate the season.

Walking Robins

This card, circa 1870, shows “The Robin family” taking a stroll on Christmas morning. Victorians associated robins with Christmas, and often put them on their cards.Some of the Earliest Christmas Cards Were Morbid and Creepy

 

Victorians expected greater originality as the popularity of Christmas cards rose. Unique and even strange cards with silk fringe, glittering attachments, and mechanical motions were popular by 1885, but the more usual Christmas card designs linked to flora and animals, seasonal vignettes, and landscapes remained popular.

Among the strange were a slew of dark and weird designs. On one holiday greeting, an army of black ants is seen attacking an army of red ants, with the message “The compliments of the season” printed on a small flag. Sullen and brooding children, random lobsters, and Christmas pudding with human components were all common themes in Christmas cards printed in the late 1800s and early 1900s.