Dec 26, 2022
The fictional Clark Griswold raised outdoor holiday lights to a new level in the 1989 holiday classic “Christmas Vacation.”
Many of the decorations found in the lawns of homes in the Mid-Ohio Valley are indeed Griswold-worthy. You know who they are. They may be on your street. You for that matter, might be your neighborhood’s Clark.
The tradition of holiday lights started before Clark climbed his ladder, and even before the light bulb.
In the 17th Century, people in Germany began putting candles on trees to illuminate the ornaments. The practice of putting flames in a cut tree in your home was dangerous and caused many fires.
During the Christmas season of 1880, Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb, hung the first string of lights outside his Menlo Park laboratory in New Jersey. People passing by on a nearby railroad could see them glowing each night, according to an article from the Library of Congress.
Edison’s friend and colleague Edward Johnson put the first string of lights in a tree in the front window of his home in 1882.
The 80 red, white and blue lights on a rotating tree were a big hit in his neighborhood. It would be a while before they were widely seen across the country. The main drawback was cost. Before the turn of the century, a typical Christmas tree would cost around $2,000 in today’s dollars to light, according to the Library of Congress.
President Grover Cleveland gave the tradition a boost when he lit a White House tree with electric lights. The cost finally came down in 1903 when General Electric began selling kits of preassembled string lights at Christmas.
Christmas lights today light 80 million homes and consume 6% of the nation’s electricity in December, according to an article in Smithsonian Magazine.
Around the Mid-Ohio Valley, scores of homes are doing their part to light the evening sky with thousands of lights and decorations with displays that not only light the night but the spirit of those who see them.