The History of Holiday & Special Event Lighting

The holiday lighting of trees and homes is a tradition that dates back several centuries. Today it is a worldwide phenomenon, where every year people gather to celebrate some of their favorite holidays. It is actually a relatively new tradition, which began in upper-class German during the 18th century.

Many people today celebrate holidays like Christmas or Hanukkah and so have the lights to help them celebrate. Others just get excited about the music and lights of the season, along with everything from a peppermint latte to a sleigh ride through Central Park. However you choose to celebrate the holidays, the one thing that we can all agree on is that the lights make all the difference in the world.

What most people aren’t aware of is that the lights have their own history. The same kinds of bulbs have not always been used. After all, the first lights used on trees were actually candles, which were actually stuck to the tree using melted wax. These days people use light bulbs for lighting purposes, which have proved to be one of the most effective ways to light up a tree.

Modern History of Special & Holiday Event Lights

Edison’s Holiday Lighting Showcase

Most people know Thomas Edison as the man who invented the light bulb, and he certainly is. What most aren’t aware of is how was one of the first to showcase a holiday display that was lit with electric light bulbs as opposed to candles. In 1880, Edison lit up his facility in Menlo Park, New Jersey with the first strand of Christmas lights.

The First Lit Tree

A couple years later, a friend of Edison’s named Edward H. Johnson became the first person to used electric lights to light up a Christmas tree. Johnson had a rotating tree with red, white, and blue lights on it. He must have been quite the patriot!

The Ad in Scientific America

The first known ad for Christmas lights was in the publication called Scientific America. It and other early ads for Christmas lights can be seen here!


25 years after that ad was published in Scientific America, several companies pulled together and formed an organization called NOMA Electric Corporation. They became the biggest maker of Christmas lights in the world.


NOMA stopped making lights in 1968. But the demand for holiday lights didn’t end there. Today, holiday lights are a worldwide phenomenon, although they are particularly popular here in the United States. Every winter people will be putting up lights on their own home and on their very own tree.

All the Different Bulbs

Incandescent Lights

These were the original lights that Edison invented. They’ve now been around for over 100 years, and were some of the first bulbs used in holiday lighting.

Mini/Fairy Light

These are some of the more popular bulbs used today. They are small and thin, and come in many different colors. They are notorious for their downfall, which is if one bulb goes out, they’re all going out.

The C7

These bulbs are newer and more advanced. They are frequently used in holiday lighting situations, both inside and out, and are also used in a variety of professional lighting scenarios. They can be steady or can twinkle. They have a candelabra or E12 base. These lightbulbs are a bit over 2 inches long.

The C9

These are a bit bigger than the C7, as they have an intermediate or E17 base. They are right under 3 inches long. Much of the time these bulbs are used to give a more retro vibe, while

LED Bulbs

The big advantage of using LED bulbs is that they are going to save a lot of energy as opposed to incandescent lights. They are also cool to the touch so they aren’t going to burn anyone. 5mm, G12, and G25 lights are comparative to the kinds of lights listed above, but have LED rather than incandescent lights within them.

The history of holiday lighting is a detailed one, but the truth is that it’s a fairly modern phenomenon. Thanks to LED lightbulbs, the industry is continuing to improve and make a better use of energy. Today one of the best parts of the winter months is being able to see the lights up at night, reflecting off the snow.