Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Thank You Mr. Johnson
I have been down at the beach this weekend, fixing up a few things at the condo. Since it’s Christmas and I am a sucker for flashing multi-colored lights, I couldn’t just sit there the week before Christmas without a brightly lit Christmas tree. To remedy the problem of leaving my ten-foot tree at home, I went to a local store and bought a cheap two-foot tree and two fifty-bulb strands of light. No ornaments, no tinsel, no garland – just lights. Sitting by the window, the surf pounding and my lights merrily blinking, I felt more in tune with the Holiday Season. I also began to wonder who got the idea for lighting a Christmas tree with electric lights instead of candles. Who was responsible for one of my favorite things about Christmas?
Well, my research pointed me to the Edison Light Company. It seems that Edward Johnson, a vice-president of the company and a friend of Thomas Edison, told the light bulb department to make him a connected strand of light bulbs for Christmas. On Christmas Eve 1882, Mr. Johnson flipped the switch and forever changed the way we decorate our trees. His tree was lit with eighty small bulbs and the entire city of New York was aghast. It was simply a modern marvel! Only the poor populace of New York was not to have those electric lights for their trees until 1890 when Edison finally began to mass-produce them. At that time, a single sixteen-bulb strand of lights cost about $12.00 (equivalent to $300.00 today). Mighty expensive. So the business of renting Christmas lights began. The price eventually dropped and soon everyone was using the new-fangled electric lights instead of burning down their houses with candles on Christmas Eve. The rest is history.
I really would like to thank Mr. Johnson for his American ingenuity in coming up with Christmas lights. My fondest memory as a child was being loaded up in the car on Christmas Eve while wearing my pajamas, wrapped in a blanket and then taken on a tour of Montgomery to view the Christmas lights. The memory of sitting snugly in the back seat, singing Christmas carols with the family and exclaiming over the beauty of people’s displays always fills me with nostalgia. And, my sister and I usually kept a close eye on the night sky in case we might catch a glimpse of St. Nick. It just made the trip more delicious. When we finally came home, my mother would make hot chocolate and then send us to bed, warning that if we didn’t go to sleep Santa wouldn’t stop at our house.
I continued the tradition with my son, enjoying the displays that people put so much labor in to provide for my entertainment. I loved the lights and inventiveness that some people came up with. He still wants to go look at the lights on Christmas Eve but instead of cocoa we now share a bottle of wine, sitting around the Christmas tree mesmerized by the blinkies. To me, Christmas without my lights would be dull and boring.
Right now, staring at my little tree and doing the math, my one hundred bulbs in Edison’s time would have cost me about $3,600.00 (in today’s money that would be equivalent to about $30,000.00). Geez! My admiration for the pitiful little tree just grew.
Did you ever go wandering in the car, looking at the Christmas lights? Was your family one of the people who decorated their yards? Do you go to the professional displays like the Huntsville Botanical Gardens or Arab’s City Park?