My wife loves me.
It’s the middle of December that makes her wonder.
“You see what the neighbors put up this year in the front yard?” she’ll ask. I know where she’s going, so I feign temporary deafness. “Big ‘ol inflatable Santa,” she’ll continue (she’s on to me). “Little elves pop out of the back of the sleigh with a stack of presents. They put out three more light-up reindeer this year, too.”
“Hope Santa’s got something to help cover their electric bill,” I mutter, but she’s way ahead of me.
“You know, at 20.7 cents per kilowatt hour, it’s not all that bad. My mom’s c7 lights (handed down to us on a faux garland), plus your dad’s c9 lights (handed down from my father, quite possibly borrowed from Thomas Edison himself), the 2 strands of 150 mini-lights that we wrap around the trees, 2 strands of LED lights and 2 LED light bulbs only eat up .15730000000000002 kilowatts. That comes out to $0.0325611 an hour. That’s 18 cents a day, $5.40 for the month.”
My wife is far more intelligent than I; with a little math, she’s exposed me for the Grinch I’ve slowly become. In my defense, I wasn’t always this way. I still remember driving with my parents to church every Sunday leading up to Christmas, my brothers and I judging each house’s seasonal decorations and declaring a winner before we hit the parking lot of St. Pius. Reindeer on the lawn were nice, but reindeer on the roof? Bonus points. Each year saw more lights, brighter lights, until for those few weeks a year we were like Alaskans bathed in 24-hour light.
The history of light-up decorations is a recent one. Before the twentieth century, most people didn’t put their Christmas trees up until December 24th because of the fire hazard they represented. (Be sure to read Stratford Fire Marshall Brian Lampart’s article on holiday safety in the December 9th Stratford Star.) In the middle of the 17th century, people attached small candles to the ends of tree branches with wax or pins. With the advent of electric lights, people started putting them up earlier and keeping them up later. By 1882, Edward Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, hand-wired 80 red, white and blue bulbs and wound them around an evergreen tree. The tradition really took off after President Grover Cleveland set up a lighted Christmas tree at the White House in 1895.
Early bulbs needed to be wired together by professionals until 1903, when American Eveready Co. came out with the first Christmas light set that included screw-in bulbs and a plug for the wall socket. Still, the person responsible for popularizing Christmas tree lighting in America was a 15-year-old boy named Albert Sadacca. After candles on a tree resulted in a tragic New York City fire in 1917, Albert convinced his family to paint and string their novelty lights together for use on Christmas trees. Albert soon became the head of a multi-million dollar company, and neighborhoods across the country began a front yard decorating competition that continues to this day.
If you need proof, walk along California Street toward Barnum Avenue at night. Thousands of blinking, twinkling lights vie for attention with inflatable reindeer and giant candy canes along a Christmas corridor that houses on both sides have spent days preparing. Notice the cars that slow down to take in the view, the families that stroll through the neighborhood with dazzled kids in tow. In a season of excess, these displays offer so much for so little.
And so I got a few more strands of light this year and strung them up with a little more care. I won’t win any contests, but for $5.40 maybe I can add some holiday cheer to my neighborhood. I wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season.