Traditions are the backbones of the holiday season. Whether your family’s tradition is to cut your own tree or to open gifts at midnight, we all have some that make the holidays feel like home. One tradition many seem to have in common no matter your faith or culture is the playful and beautiful use of holiday lights. Homes, trees, apartment patios, cars and even boats get decorated with holiday lights nowadays, but does anyone know why?

Holiday lights, or Christmas lights as they are commonly known, originated in the 17th century in Germany, when people wanted to bring joy and festivity to the dreary and bleak winter months. They started by bringing Evergreen Pine trees into their homes and decorating them with candles glued with melted wax to a tree branch and stringed berries. It wasn’t until the advent of electricity that the modern holiday lights were created.

The first Christmas tree lit by the use of electricity was by Edward Johnson in 1882. He proudly displayed his lit up Christmas tree in his 5th Avenue New York City apartment with 80 small electric light bulbs. Edward Johnson was an inventor who worked under Thomas Edison.

From that point on, the popularity of electrically-illuminated Christmas trees grew with mounting enthusiasm in the United States and elsewhere. The most famous illuminated Christmas tree has to be the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The illumination ceremony is so famous it began to be televised in recent years. The televised special includes musical performances by celebrities and local artists alike.

The most intriguing tradition of Holiday lights is the very popular lighting competition that seems to be popping up in every town in the United States. Fellow neighbors compete against each other to see who can out-do the other in creating the most spectacular light show on their house. It has become 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. The extremely serious competitors have been known to use separate electrical services to supply the amount of electrical power used and a rare few have even made it to the Extreme Christmas TV specials shown on HGTV.

From its humble beginnings of simply bringing joy and light to the long and harsh winter days, to its modern usage of outdoor decoration and friendly competition, Holiday lighting is by far the most festive of all traditions in the holiday season.