Christmas Tips & Fun

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Decorating for Christmas

LED Christmas Lights – Ain’t Technology Grand?


here are still some of us who remember strings of lights with cords thick enough to swing from and bulbs nearly large enough to read by. They came in a very limited color palette – red, blue, green, white and a sort of orange-ish yellow. If one bulb went the whole string went dark. And there were about 15 bulbs in a string – that you couldn’t daisy-chain to the next string, it had to plug directly into an already overheated extension cord.

But, they were made here and you could get replacements at almost any Woolworth’s, TG&Y, Kresge or even Neisner’s.

Supposedly, they didn’t become popular until the mid-1950s – though the same “some of us” think that for sure we had them on our trees in the ‘40s.

There were occasional flurries of innovation – bubble lights that contained a colored liquid that bubbled when heated and reminded one of the lights in a jukebox, small star-shaped aluminum reflectors that fit between the bulb and socket and sometimes caused either a shock or a short, and faux candle lights complete with built-on plastic “wax” drippings.

In any case, by the 1960s the incandescent bulbs had evolved into “mini” lights. These were smaller, to be sure, and didn’t get quite as hot as the older and larger variety – but, they were still wired in “series” so that if one went out the rest did as well. By then there were perhaps 25-50 on a single string and instead of screwing into their sockets as any normal bulb would, they had to be carefully pushed into a sort of plastic housing. And, since you had to do this usually between 25 and 50 times in order to find the one that had conked out, Dad (the family electrician) often gave up and bought a new string.

Eventually, the lighting companies decided to wire the strings so that if one bulb burned out the rest would stay lighted – but that was almost too late as the little blue-white light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs started to come on the market. Now it’s hard to find the mini lights either as strings or as replacements for the strings you already own. The LEDs of today are coming in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Because they use so little electricity you can put many strings together so that your tree becomes a visual fairyland.

Some LEDs are even pre-wired on faux Christmas trees so that the end result is almost picture-perfect and there are no wires to distract you from seeing the ornaments.

Where will it lead? LED bubble lights? There are already computer-controlled LED strings that, when coupled to a music source, will “dance” in time to the music – so perhaps bubble lights (or something else entirely) will be on a tree near you in the not-too-distant future.

Written by Dianne Weller
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