Shortly after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the vice president of his company, Edward Johnson, decided to adorn his Christmas tree with eighty red, white, and blue bulbs and put it on display in his New York home for others to see.
The First Christmas lights!
From that Christmas light show beginning in the 1880s, we have placed electric Christmas lights on our windows, rooftops, outside vegetation, and in and about our yards, fences, and every other conceivable location.
The History of Christmas Lights
The history of adorning our homes with Christmas lights has historical roots that go back hundreds of years. During England's persecution of the Irish, religious gatherings were forbidden and priests were forced to hide in caves and forests. Most of the priests' ministering had to be limited to nighttime when, under the cover of darkness, they could emerge from their hiding places and visit their faithful flocks to say Mass.
At Christmastime, Irish families would leave their doors unlocked and place burning candles, or Christmas lights, in their windows as a message to a priest that those within were believers and the priest was welcome. Of course, the Irish explained away their Christmas light custom to their English overlords. They said that the custom simply meant that their home was symbolic open to Mary and Joseph, who had sought and not found refuge that first Christmas Eve. The English accepted the Irish's explanation, and the Christmas light practice continued.
Christmas Lights arrive in America
As Irish immigrants arrived in America, they brought with them their Christmas light tradition. In the safety of the United States, the custom grew from placing a few simple candles in windows to hanging and placing thousands of electric Christmas lights, in every imaginable shape and size, on homes, in neighborhoods, on municipal buildings and churches.
So don't be alarmed if a wandering Irish priest in tattered clothes is drawn to your Christmas light display in the middle of the night this Christmas Eve!