Christmas Lights, LED Lights, Miniature Lights, Icicle & More
This Christmas Season you can find all your lighting needs here. We are proud to bring you one of the largest selection of Christmas Lights in all colors and styles. View our large selection of Mini Lights. Our miniature lights are available in a traditional bulb or in LED. LED mini lights allow you to go green this Christmas, as they can run 90 to 95% more efficient than traditional lights and last for up to 200,000 hours. Our large selection of C5, C7, and C9 retro style lights are sure to delight you. Be sure to also view one of the largest selections of UL Listed indoor and outdoor lights. We also carry a great selection of Commercial Lights.
History Of Christmas Lights
The use of decorative, festive lighting during the Christmas holiday season is a long standing tradition in many Christian cultures, and has been adopted as a secular practice in a number of other non-Christian, or predominantly non-Christian, cultures (notably in Japan).
While the use of celebratory lighting during winter solstice festivals pre-dates Christianity, it is the European (and later North American) partly secularised traditions associated with Christmas which are now commonly recognised and enjoyed as Christmas (or festive, holiday-season) lights.
Early Christians were persecuted for having worship gatherings (“mass”). A candle in the window signified where worship would be occurring for Christians in a community.
The tradition of using small candles to light up the Christmas tree dates back to at least the middle of the XVIIth century. However, it took two centuries for the tradition to become widely established first in Germany and soon spreading to Eastern Europe.
Candles for the tree were glued with melted wax to a tree branch or attached by pins. Around 1890, candleholders were first used for Christmas candles. Between 1902 and 1914, small lanterns and glass balls to hold the candles started to be used.
The illuminated Christmas tree became a Christmas tradition in Germany during the Early Modern period. The illuminated Christmas tree became established in the United Kingdom during Queen Victoria’s reign, and through emigration spread to North America and Australia. In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the delighted 13-year-old princess wrote, “After dinner..we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room. There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees”. Until the development of inexpensive electrical power in the mid nineteenth century, miniature candles were commonly (and in some cultures still are) used.
In the United Kingdom electrically powered christmas lights are generally known as fairy lights. The British physicist William Thomson was aked by the London Savoy Theatre to equip the principal fairies with miniature lighting for the opening night of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Iolanthe on 25th November 1882. The battery powered lights were supplied by the Swan United Electric Lamp Company founded by Sir Joseph Swan. This term for a string of electrically powered christmas lights has been in common usage in the UK ever since.
The first known electrically illuminated Christmas tree was the creation of Edward H. Johnson, an associate of inventor Thomas Edison. While he was vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company, a predecessor of today’s Con Edison electric utility, he had Christmas tree light bulbs especially made for him. He proudly displayed his Christmas tree, which was hand-wired with 80 red, white and blue electric incandescent light bulbs the size of walnuts, on December 22, 1882 at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Local newspapers ignored the story, seeing it as a publicity stunt. However, it was published by a Detroit newspaper reporter, and Johnson has become widely regarded as the Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights. By 1900, businesses started stringing up Christmas lights behind their windows. Christmas lights were too expensive for the average person; as such, electric Christmas lights did not become the majority replacement for candles until 1930.
In 1895, U.S. President Grover Cleveland proudly sponsored the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House. It was a huge specimen, featuring more than a hundred multicolored lights. The first commercially produced Christmas tree lamps were manufactured in strings of multiples of eight sockets by the General Electric Co. of Harrison, New Jersey. Each socket took a miniature two-candela carbon-filament lamp.
From that point on, electrically illuminated Christmas trees, but only indoors, grew with mounting enthusiasm in the United States and elsewhere. San Diego in 1904 and Appleton, WI in 1909, and New York City in 1912 were the first recorded instances of the use of Christmas lights outside. McAdenville North Carolina claims to have been the first in 1956.The Library of Congress credits the town for inventing “the tradition of decorating evergreen trees with Christmas lights dates back to 1956 when the McAdenville Men’s Club conceived of the idea of decorating a few trees around the McAdenville Community Center.” However, the The Tree at Rockefeller Center has had “lights” since 1931, but did not have real electric lights until 1956. Furthermore, Philadelphia’s Christmas Light Show and Disney’s Christmas Tree also began in 1956. Though General Electric sponsored community lighting competitions during the 1920s, it would take until the mid 1950s for the use of such lights to be adopted by average households.
Over a period of time, strings of Christmas lights found their way into use in places other than Christmas trees. Soon, strings of lights adorned mantles and doorways inside homes, and ran along the rafters, roof lines, and porch railings of homes and businesses. In recent times, many city skyscrapers are decorated with long mostly-vertical strings of a common theme, and are activated simultaneously in Grand Illumination ceremonies.
In the mid 2000s, the video of the home of Carson Williams was widely distributed on the internet as a viral video. It garnered national attention in 2005 from The Today Show on NBC, Inside Edition and the CBS Evening News and was featured in a Miller television commercial. Williams turned his hobby into a commercial venture, and was commissioned to scale up his vision to a scale of 250,000 lights at a Denver shopping center, as well as displays in parks and zoos.
Displays of Christmas lights in public venues and on public buildings are a popular part of the annual celebration of Christmas, and may be set up by businesses or by local governments. The displays utilise Christmas lights in many ways, including decking towering Christmas trees in public squares, street trees and park trees, adorning lampposts and other such structures, decorating significant buildings such as town halls and department stores, and lighting up popular tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House.
Annual displays in Oxford Street, London, England are adored by the public and local businesses alike, have been erected for decades.
In the U.S. from the 1960s, beginning in tract housing, it became increasingly the custom to completely outline the house (but particularly the eaves) with weatherproof Christmas lights. The Holiday Trail of Lights is a joint effort by cities in east Texas and northwest Louisiana that had its origins in the Festival of Lights and Christmas Festival in Natchitoches, started in 1927, making it one of the oldest light festivals in the United States.
It is often a pastime to drive or walk around neighborhoods in the evening to see the lights displayed on and around other homes traditionally called a Tacky Light Tour. While some homes have no lights, others may have incredibly ornate displays which require weeks to construct. A rare few have even made it to the Extreme Christmas TV specials shown on HGTV, at least one requiring a generator and another requiring separate electrical service to supply the amount of electrical power required.
In Australia and New Zealand, chains of Christmas lights were quickly adopted as an effective way to provide ambient lighting to verandas, where cold beer is often served in the long hot summer evenings. For many years the use of Christmas lights on Australian homes was mainly limited to this simple form. From about 1990 increasingly elaborate Christmas lights have been displayed and driving around between 8 and 10 p.m. to look at the lights has become a popular family entertainment. While in some areas there is fierce competition, with town councils offering awards for the best decorated house, in other areas it is seen as a co-operative effort, with residents priding themselves on their street or their neighbourhood.
Incandescent lights, the type most commonly used in Christmas lights, produce a broad-spectrum white light, and are colored by coating the glass envelope with a transparent or translucent paint which acts as a color filter. Some early Japanese-made lamps, however, used colored glass. Though less expensive, the painted lamps suffer from fading or flaking of the paint when exposed to weather. Older bulbs were also coated on the insides of the bulbs to prevent this effect, but were more costly to manufacture.
Light-emitting diode (LED) Christmas lights are quickly gaining popularity in many places due to their low energy usage (about one tenth the energy used by incandescent bulbs), very long lifetimes, and associated low maintenance. Colored LEDs are also far more efficient at producing light than their colored incandescent counterparts.
There are two types of LEDs: colored LEDs and white LEDs. Colored LEDs emit a specific color light (monochromatic light), regardless of the color of the transparent plastic lens that encases the LED’s chip. The plastic may be colored for cosmetic reasons, but does not substantially affect the color of the light emitted. Because the light is determined by the LED’s chip rather than the plastic lens, Christmas lights of this type do not suffer from color fading. In addition, the plastic lens is much more durable than the glass envelope of incandescent bulbs.
White LEDs are similar to colored LEDs in most respects such as power and durability, but utilize a two-stage process to create the white (polychromatic, or broad spectrum) light. In the first stage, the LED actually only produces one color of light, similar to any other LED. In the second stage, some of the blue or violet-blue is absorbed by a phosphor which fluoresces yellow, imitating the broad spectrum of colors which our eyes perceive as “white”. This is essentially the same process used in fluorescent lamps, except for the use of an LED to create blue light rather than excited gas plasma to create ultraviolet.
White LEDs can be used as white Christmas lights, or can be used to create any other color through the use of colored refractors and lenses, similar to the more commonly used incandescent bulbs. Color fading may therefore occur due to the exposure of colored plastics to sunlight or heat, as with ordinary Christmas lights. Yellowing may also occur in the epoxy “bulb” in which the LED is encased if left in the sun consistently.
LEDs use much less electricity (only 4 watts for a 70-light string) and have a much greater lifespan than incandescent lamps. Since they are constructed from solid state materials and have no metallic filaments to burn out or break, LEDs are also much less susceptible to breakage from impact or rough handling.
Although LEDs themselves are long-life devices, older or lower-quality strands of LED-based Christmas lights can suffer from early failure. This is particularly so with blue ones, which are the newest and most expensive, and therefore prone to cost-cutting; in addition, spares are rarely included with sets. Most LED-based Christmas lights use copper wire which connects to the aluminum-based wires of the LEDs. Exposing this combination of metals to moisture can result in galvanic corrosion inside of the lamps’ sockets, causing them to stop working. Many other sets use cheaper steel leads on the LEDs, which instead rust, leading to the same result. Some newer and higher-quality sets of LED Christmas lights have each LED permanently mounted in a non-removable weathertight base to keep out rain and other moisture, helping to prevent such corrosion; however, this prevents the user from replacing defective bulbs.
Most common consumer LED lamps produce intense, deep, pure colours, versus incandescent bulbs which generally have subtler, yellow-tinted colours, often somewhat faded especially if used outside. Blue tends to be the dimmest incandescent color, but the brightest in LED, while yellow is just the opposite. Very early strings of LED lights were noticeably dimmer than incandescent bulbs, but now are often noticeably brighter. These factors combine to give LED lamps a distinct aesthetic from older incandescent strings, although white LEDs behind coloured lenses do offer the ability to provide a more incandescent-type appearance with most of the benefits of energy efficiency. However, most use coloured-chip type LEDs that produce the intense colours. This is largely due to the maturity of coloured LED versus newer white LED technology, and as the technology improves so will the ability to change the aesthetics of the lamps, at lower cost than at present. In 2007, “warm white” LED sets became commonly available for the first time in U.S. stores, having a color similar to that of a compact fluorescent light. However, this color would need to have more of an orange tint to match the color of very small incandescent bulbs, because they burn at a lower temperature. Still, this provides a much closer match to incandescent light color than was available when only very cool (bluish) white was available. One can choose cool-white LEDs for their crisp or snow-white quality, or warm white LEDs for their more familiar incandescent-like color.
Additionally, low-end sets do not contain power supplies (or have only a transformer instead of a SELV), and so the bulbs flicker in sync with the alternating current, being completely off when the voltage is negative. This produces a noticeable stroboscopic effect when an individual happens to move the lights across his or her field of view quickly, as when moving the eyes or turning the head rapidly. Higher-quality strings include a bridge rectifier to supply full-wave direct current to the lamps, making the lights brighter and greatly reducing the flickering (though there is still a small amount because diodes need a minimum voltage to begin conducting). Cheaper sets with two circuits connect each in the opposite polarity, which minimizes flicker in the combined light reflected from walls, and also keeps power consumption symmetrical so as not to affect the electrical system.
Many mini sets use standard 3 mm dome-shaped LEDs, and have a plastic cover over them to provide refraction, which is an important step in diffusing the unidirectional light they cast. These covers come in C5, C6, and C7 sizes (?, ¾, and ?-inch, or 16, 19, and 22 mm diameters, respectively) pointed “strawberries,” G12 (12mm or almost ½-inch) globe “raspberries,” and “M5″ (5mm or 7?32-inch) pointed cylinders, equivalent to the T1¾ mini lights so common since the 1980s. For blue and green, these covers may have some fluorescence, leading to a lighter color. Other sets have 5 mm domes with no covers, though because these project light in one direction, many of these instead have a cone-shaped indentation on the top, refracting much of the light out to the sides. Still other sets have covers like snowflakes (or for Halloween, pumpkins). There are also multi-LED screw-in bulbs which replace real C7½ and C9¼ bulbs, and are much closer in brightness than the mini imitations.
Fiber optic technology is also used in Christmas lighting, especially by incorporating it into artificial Christmas trees. Incandescent lamps or LEDs are located in the tree base and many optic fibers extend from the lamps to the ends of the tree branches. These devices frequently use a step-down transformer, because they have only one or two lamps or LEDs.
Bubble lights are a type of incandescent novelty light that acquired some popularity during the 1950s. Their main feature is a sealed glass tube with a colored bubbling liquid inside. While the idea was first demonstrated by Benjamin Franklin, the idea was adapted for use in Christmas Lights. They were invented by Carl Otis in 1935, who then sold the patents to the NOMA Electric Corporation. There is a long story involving patent fights. Bubble Lights can still be purchased online and in stores to this day.
Lights are sometimes mounted on frames—typically metal for large lights and plastic for miniature ones. These were first used for public displays on lampposts, street lights, and telephone poles in cities and towns. For public displays large C7 bulbs are generally used, but by the 1990s light sculptures were being made in smaller form with miniature lights for home use. Consumer types now tend to come with a plastic sheet backing printed in the proper design, and in the 2000s now with nearly photographic quality graphics and usually on a holographic “laser” backing. Public displays on often have outdoor-rated garland on the frame as well, making them very decorative even in the daytime. Places where notable displays of light sculptures may be seen include Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in Tennessee.
On a smaller scale, one of the most popular light sculptures is the sparkleball. Sparkleballs are handmade globes made from threading Christmas lights into a sphere built of plastic cups. The cups are joined by soldering, cable ties, or with a hand stapler. Usually spotted individually on front porches at Christmas, the residents of North Yale Avenue, Fullerton CA have made a holiday tradition of hanging 450 sparkleballs from the trees lining their street.
Early bulbs were sometimes made in shapes and painted, the same way that glass ornaments are. These are typically pressed glass, much as common dishware was at the time. These are reproduced in very limited quantity nowadays, typically found only at specialty retailers and online. Metal reflectors were also used until the 1970s, having a center hub of paperboard, which then had tabs that pressed between the bulb and the socket.
Miniature lights sets can come with attached ornaments, typically plastic but sometimes glass. These began mid-century with petal “reflectors” which actually refracted the light and focused it in beams, and perhaps even earlier with crystal-like ones. On both types, the bulb stuck out of the center, and the “reflector” could be removed from the socket. Later designs, though much less popular, included stars. LED lights now come molded into shapes, though the light comes from the top instead of the center.
Mini lights can also have full-size ornaments normally sold on sets of ten. Certain sets have more than one bulb per ornament, such as for snowmen and candy canes which are long. There is an enormous array of other designs, ranging from holly berries and poinsettias to star-shaped santas and wire mesh snowflakes. There are also ones for other holidays.
- Note that the following may be particular to North America, and may vary in countries with mains other than 120 volts.
Christmas lighting began with small C6 bulbs—C meaning “candle” for the flame shape, and 6 meaning ¾ inches (¾ in, or 19 mm) in diameter. These were on a miniature candelabra screw-base, now designated E10 (Edison screw, 10 mm). Replicas of these bulbs are now produced as miniature strings, usually with the entire bulb replaced, but sometimes as a decorative cover with regular bulbs inside. These bulbs tend to be transparent white or colors, and are often ornately designed with crystal-like patterns.
Later bulbs were called C7½, being inches (15?16 in, or 24 mm) in diameter; however, these have a blunt shape (and should therefore be called B7½, or B24). Mixing metric and English units, there are also now G30 globes which are 30 mm (1 3?16 in, or G9½) in diameter that uses these sockets. These are still used for the classic or even retro look, and use about five watts each. Older bulbs drew 7½ watts of power, and were reduced to save power. Early bulbs, as well as some new antique reproductions, are made in various shapes and then painted like Christmas ornaments. Bubble lights and twinkle bulbs also come in this size.
Outdoor-only bulbs are designated C9¼ (1 5?32 in, or 29 mm), and have a similar blunt shape as the C7½, but an E17 “intermediate” base. Some modern versions of these strings are now listed for indoor and outdoor use. These bulbs are rated at about seven watts each, and also now come in a globe shape, designated G40 (40 mm, or 1 9?16 in). Some of the blunt-shape bulbs now come painted with designs, or swirled in more than one color. It is now very difficult to find twinkle bulbs in this size.
The four most common bulb sizes currently being used in the United States. From left to right: “rice” style LED (0.057w), T1¾ “midget” (0.5w), C7½ (5w) and C9¼ (7.5w). Quarter shown for size comparison.
Standard mini bulbs are T1¾, indicating that they are a tube shape 7?32 inches (5.5 mm) in diameter. Larger mini bulbs, which began appearing around 2004, are about twice this size, but are still very uncommon. Both types, along with most of the candle-shaped ones, are pinched-off at the tip rather than the base during manufacturing. Most contemporary miniature light bulbs have an internal shunt that is intended to activate when the bulb’s filament burns out. The shunt closes the circuit across the bad filament, restoring continuity and illuminating the rest of the string. However, if one shunt fails to close properly, the whole string will fail to light. Other miniature types include globe-shaped “pearl” and smaller “button” lights, which are often painted in translucent or pearlescent colors. “Rice” lights are tiny, like a grain of rice, and can even have a subminiature base, if they are not already fixed permanently to the wires (on low-voltage sets). Rice lights are typically transparent, although colored variations do exist. They are intended to create tiny points of light, and are suitable for decorating miniature models, small wreaths, and for other similar situations in which even “midget” T1¾ lights may be too large.
LED lights, which are encased in solid plastic rather than a hollow glass bulb, may be molded into any shape. Because of the way the LED casts light in only one direction, this is the most common way to design LED lighting, with even “plain” sets having some sort of crystal pattern to create refraction.
Many bargain brands have dome-shaped LEDs which focuses the light to where it is sharply visible when viewed head-on, but almost invisible from a perpendicular viewpoint. This has both advantages and disadvantages according to one’s decorating needs.
If a small LED bulb size but wider viewing perspective is desired, wide-angle LEDs are available. Rather than being dome-shaped (convex), the envelope is concave (sunken in) to cause wider distribution of light.
All miniature bulbs (including some LED sets) have a wedge base, though the exact design of each is inconsistent, making it somewhat difficult for the average consumer to change bulbs. To replace a bulb, the plastic base of the bulb must usually be changed by straightening the two wires and pulling the glass part out. Most replacement bulbs do not even include the bases anymore, despite getting only ten in a package and being charged nearly half what an entirely new string of 100 costs. For this reason, many Americans treat mini Christmas lights as being disposable, in addition to colored lights tending to fade even with only brief exposure to weathering. Many LED sets are coming permanently wired, with bases that look like conventional pull-out bulbs.
Traditional C6 bulbs were typically 15 volts, and used in series strings of eight bulbs, or multiples of 8. The use of eight bulbs (120 volts for 8 lamps equals 15 volts per lamp) gives each lamp the rated voltage for proper brightness. Later sets used nine bulbs on a string to increase the life of the bulbs by reducing the voltage each lamp received (120 volts divided by 9 lamps = 13 volts per bulb) but not significantly reducing the light output of the bulbs.
Large C7½ and C9¼ bulbs typically come in sets of 25, though bubble lights come in sets of seven, and some non-holiday sets come in ten or twelve. Sockets are usually spaced about one foot or 30 cm apart, and are clamped to the wire with an integrated insulation-piercing connector. Some older parallel sets had 15 bulbs, as do some of the newer globe sets manufactured today. Both of these bulbs are designed to run on 120 volts and the light sets that use them are parallel wired.
This house in Cincinnati OH is well known in the area for its traditional light display. The only types of lights used are mini, C7, and C9. Special wiring was to be installed to light the 125-foot-tall (38 m) pine tree with C9 bulbs for the 2007 display
Miniatures first came in sets of 35 (3.5 volts per bulb), and sometimes smaller sets of 20 (6 volts per bulb). Sets of ten (12 volts per bulbs) were made for very small trees, but are quite hot, and are now usually used for tree toppers only. This number is convenient for stars, which have a total of ten points (five outward and five inward), and often have another light in the middle, occasionally on both sides.
Incandescent miniatures now usually come in sets of 50 or 100, 2.5 V 170 mA bulbs (which contains two circuits of 50), though decorative sets with larger bulbs (C6 or pearl style) typically come in 35 or 70. Several “extra-bright” sets also use 70 or 105 bulbs, keeping the per-bulb voltage at 3.5 instead of 2.5.
LED sets can vary greatly. Common is a set of 60 (2 volts per bulb), but white LED sets use two circuits of 30 (4 volts per bulb). Multicolor sets may have special wiring, because red and yellow require less voltage than the newer blue-based ones (blue, emerald green and fluorescent white), but typically come in sets with a multiple of 35.
Battery-powered sets typically come in 10 or 12, and can use standard 2.5 to 3.5-volt bulbs because they run two batteries, totaling three volts or less. LEDs are becoming increasingly common as they greatly prolong battery life, but because they also last longer they are often soldered directly to the wires, making up for some of the increased cost of the newer LEDs. ‘Rice lights” are often made this way as well, and likewise may also have more bulbs per set as they draw somewhat less power per bulb than other incandescents.
Christmas lights can be animated using special “flasher” or “interrupter” bulbs (usually a red tipped replacement bulb included with the set) or by electronic controller. Flasher bulbs use a bi-metallic strip which interrupts the series circuit when the lamp becomes hot. An electronic Christmas light controller usually has a diode bridge followed by a resistor-based voltage divider, a filter capacitor and a fixed-program microcontroller. The micro-controller has three or four outputs which are connected to transistors or thyristor which control interleaved circuits, each with lamps of a single color.
Controllers can be set up to change flashing or animation styles by pressing a button or turning a dial on the unit; others have only one pattern, but the speed of this pattern can usually be adjusted by turning a similar dial.
Most multi-function sets feature 8 to 16 moving light functions. Some very common functions are fading and chasing. More extravagant and less common functions are stepping on and 2-channel flashing. These lights usually come in sets of 140 or 150. This is because to give the chasing effect, bulbs must be arranged in 4 circuits of 35 (equals 140) or 3 circuits of 50 (equals 150). These light sets use even less power than a regular set of 150 because the lights are not always on, and therefore the bulbs do not get as hot.
Usually, computerized sets cannot be connected end-to-end. However, some newer sets contain special miniature plugs – a “female” plug is located at the end of the set, and a “male” plug is located between the control box and the beginning of the actual lights. By disconnecting the control box from one set, it can now be plugged into the end of an identical chasing set to produce a longer strand of chasing lights. These plugs generally have a twist-on locking feature similar to that found on garden hoses.
Computer Controlled Christmas displays are becoming more and more common today. For instance a display in Texas, Christmas In Jasper, uses a PIC-based dimmer scheme, and also refers to dimming controllers that people have built based on this scheme. The designs all use mid-range PIC micro-controllers, are generally modular in units of eight channels (dimmable circuits), and use medium-speed, daisy-chainable, one-direction serial communications for input. Most controllers do not have stand-alone show sequencing capabilities, and rely on a separate computer (usually a PC) to send it real-time sequences of dimmer commands. This setup is strictly a do-it-yourself project, and there aren’t any commercial (hardware or software) products available. There are, however, a number of PCB designs that people have created.
Fiber-optic Christmas lighting can also be animated electronically, particularly when the set incorporates LEDs. When an incandescent lamp is used, animation can created by means of a rotating color wheel.
There’s a new control technology being developed in Ottawa, Canada Lights On Calico which enables multiple homes to link up over the Internet in-real time and in-synch. A central website initiates the timing using Network Time Protocol to keep the local computers in synch, and each location has a small Java program that controls a device which interfaces with the USB port to which your Christmas lights plug into. In this way, anyone online can “plug in” to this network and at their discretion working independently or in-synch engage their Christmas Light display on a global level.
Related terms: Christmas Decorations, Christmas Candles, Christmas Clipart, Christmas Cards, Novelty Christmas Lights, Christmas Tree Lights, Christmas Light Displays, Christmas Lights Shows