Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Tree Lights

It has been said that Martin Luther was the first person 
to put lights on a Christmas tree.
He saw the stars twinkling 
through the snowy branches of an evergreen tree 
as he was walking home one night
and wanted to share the beauty of it with his children.

Although Martin Luther was the first to add lighted candles to a fir tree,
the tradition of bringing evergreens into homes
to mark the winter solstice dates back centuries. 

photo courtesy of

According to the web site
people once hung evergreens on their windows and in their homes
in order to ward off ghosts, witches, and sickness.
In the pre-Christian era, evergreens symbolized the new growth of spring
and the hope  for its return. 

Germans were among the first Christian peoples 
to bring evergreen trees into their homes,
and the early German settlers brought the tradition to the US.
Yet, it took a long while for the Christmas tree to catch on,
and it really only became widespread after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert,
who was German, were depicted standing by their candle-decorated 
Christmas tree with several of their nine children.
This is the 1846 image, as shown on

Lest one think that only evergreens 
will do for a solstice or Christmas celebration, notes that even the ancient Egyptians 
brought palm fronds into their homes
to celebrate the return of their sun god Ra and his triumph over death.
There's no record of their having burned candles or oil pots 
on their palms leaves, however.

Today, tree lights are essential, with many artificial trees coming pre-lighted.
But people remain very particular about the type  of Christmas lights they will use.
One of my brothers insists on the old-fashioned elliptical lights like these:
photo courtesy of

Others prefer the small lights like these:
photo courtesy of

But even these small lights are becoming "yesterday's news."
LED lights that give a piercing bright light in multiple colors 
are becoming more common.
In my neighborhood, most people have white lights,
a more conservative choice nowadays.

Lights on Christmas trees have come a long way 
since Martin Luther first saw the stars sparkling and lit candles on his tree.
But one thing hasn't changed: 
the stars can still out-sparkle anything that humans come up with.
And I do think the reason we love Christmas lights so much  
is that for a short season,
it's almost as if we can bring the stars from the sky inside to brighten our homes.
Here's something Emerson said about the stars that describes our love of light:

If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years,
how would men believe and adore; 
and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God
which had been shown!

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