Now that we have our presents wrapped (the tree is already up and decorated – see Tree History) and it’s time to…

Put a little light on the subject


When Christmas trees first moved into houses to help families celebrate the season, they were often illuminated by candlelight. While they offered a magic glow, candles were prone to burn down and ignite the tree – causing no end of additional problems.

An early use, therefore, of electric lights was to replace candles on Christmas trees. Then the fun started. At first the lights were shaped like candle flames and were large and clunky. As technology improved, the lights began to shrink, and assume even more shapes. Remember Bubble Lights? As the lights became smaller one previously-solved problem became more troublesome: how to find, and replace, the tiny bulb that had burned out somewhere in the middle of the 150-light string and was creating a vast dark patch on the lower right quadrant of the tree. That problem was solved by adding an additional wire that carried current to all of the bulbs, all of the time, not depending on each bulb to absorb juice, take what it needed and then pass it along – the scheme that failed when a bulb somewhere burned out and broke the circuit.

Now a new type of light is reaching the popular market: the Light-Emitting Diode (LED). These are the same devices that are in automobile tail lights and municipal traffic lights among other uses. They are frugal to the point of stinginess with electrical energy and they can last for an average of a year or more if left on continuously.

The problem is achieving a true white light, the kind everyone thinks of belonging on Christmas trees (unless they like to have a variety of colors – or even a single color as a theme – a trend that should have died out in the 70’s). White light is created by the addition of red, blue and green light, and LEDs are very good at producing red and green – but not too good at blue. Scientists now think they have a solution: an organic material that creates blue light that will last as long as the other components, resulting in true white lights that will last for many Christmases to come.

Written by Dianne Weller
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