by Rebecca Parsons
Christmas lights have been around as long as most can remember. But the history of these classic lights is a long one, dating back to the 1600s.
Prior to the invention of Christmas lights, families used candles to light up their Christmas trees. Beginning in Germany in the 17th century, families attached small candles to tree branches using pins or melted wax. The trend eventually spread to Eastern Europe where European Christians took the decorating one step further, placing a burning candle in their front window to indicate to passerby that the home was a Christian one.
In 1880, Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, introduced the first ever strand of electric lights. He strung the lights across the outside of his Menlo Park Laboratory where railroad passengers were able to catch a glimpse of the revolutionary display.
A few years later, in 1882, Edison’s partner, Edward H. Johnson put together the very first string of Christmas lights. The string consisted of 80 red, white, and blue electric lights. By 1890, the lights were being mass-produced and lit up department stores across the nation.
Although the lights were revolutionary and spectacular, it took a while for the trend to fully catch on. Lighting up the tree and the house with electric lights proved to be expensive, so many families continued using candles to light up their trees. The candles posed a fire hazard, so home-owners kept buckets of water and sand nearby and only lit the candles for a few minutes each night.
In 1895, President Cleveland sponsored the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House, bringing further attention to the phenomenon. The wealthy began following suit, but lights were expensive and only the most affluent families could afford to participate. The cost to light a standard Christmas tree totaled roughly $2,000 in today’s dollars.
While Edison and Johnson invented the first strand of electric lights, Albert Sadacca created the lights that we know and love today. The Sadacca family owned a novelty lighting store and Albert, only a teenager at the time, suggested the store make colorful strands of Christmas lights available to the public. In 1925, Albert, alongside his brothers Henri and Leon founded NOMA—an electric company formed by the union of 15 companies in the Christmas light business. NOMA became the largest Christmas light distributor and went on to survive the Great Depression, before eventually closing their doors in 1968 due to competitor competition.
Today, Christmas lights can be found in almost every neighborhood across the United States and can even be seen from space. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas, meaning approximately 105,000,000 households celebrate the holiday in our country alone. That’s a lot of lights!
While all of the country will be lit up for most of December, there are plenty of stunning displays right here at home. An ever popular Christmastime destination is none other than Disneyland where the park, hotels, and Downtown Disney are lit up and offer exquisite holiday displays, including a 60-foot tree decked out with 1,800 ornaments and 70,000 lights.
Rancho Santa Margarita’s Candy Cane Lane on El Corzo is a must-see as the entire block is decked out in lights, fake snow, inflatables, and even has neighborhood kids selling hot chocolate curb-side.
In Lake Forest, the Norris family adorns their home with over 40,000 lights that blink in time with your car radio. Newport Beach boasts their “Ring of Lights” display where bayside businesses and homes decorate with lights, animated scenes, and dancing trees, earning them community awards for a number of years. And of course, you can’t miss the Dana Point and Newport boat parades, where boat-owners bedeck their boats and parade around the harbor for all to see.
While various areas around Orange County offer numerous breath-taking displays, San Clemente is no exception.
Each year, the Chamber of Commerce hosts a community competition with categories and prizes for both businesses and residents. For businesses, the Outlets at San Clemente took home the grand prize in 2016 and 304 La Fremontia took home the win for residential. The historic San Clemente Inn has won for a number of years, bringing home the Most Humorous award last year. If you’d like to join the fun, be sure and pick up an application and be prepared for judging on Tuesday, December 12th from 5:30-8:00 P.M.
For the 2017 Winter Wonderland Light Decorating Contest contact the SC Chamber of Commerce at (949) 492-1131. Or pick up an application at 1231 Puerta Del Sol, Unit 200, SC 92673.