The very first electric Christmas lights were white. And blue. And red. When Edison Electric Company Vice President Edward Hibbert Johnson strung together 80 electric lights to decorate his Christmas tree in 1882, he unknowingly sparked a debate that has raged seasonally ever since.
It seems people have very strong opinions about the color of their Christmas lights. Some say multicolored lights are distracting; others insist that all-white lights are too subdued.
In an effort to restore true Christmas spirit – and suppress spirited arguments during the holidays – we offer the following observations on the topic.
White Lights are Serene
White Christmas light lovers say colored lights diminish a Christmas tree’s natural beauty. Outdoors, there’s just something pure and serene about a scene set with all-white lights, especially after a snowfall.
Multicolored Lights are Festive
While white light enthusiasts find colorful Christmas lights overpowering, those in the multicolored Christmas light camp consider them playful and exuberant. They bring vivacious color to a landscape that, in many parts of the country, is drab and dreary. Colored lights say: “Let the Christmas party begin!”
White Lights Offer a Neutral Backdrop
White Christmas lights echo the current design trend toward neutral shades. They don’t distract from colorful decorations, so your decorations (and the tree itself) can take center stage.
Colored Christmas Lights Reflect the Season's Joy
Big, colorful Christmas lights – particularly newer versions of the retro incandescent bulbs Grandpa strung on his Christmas tree – express the unrestrained joy of the season. They are “merry and bright.” While a house decked in hundreds of colored lights would look like a carnival attraction any other time of year, at Christmastime, those same colorful Christmas lights blaze and blink cheerfully in time to the beat of countless Christmas melodies.
White Lights Offer Flexibility
White lights coordinate with every color scheme. They create a blank canvas for your decorating options and enable you to change themes from year to year. And they look as beautiful on a frosted Christmas tree as they do on a green pine.
Colored Lights Can Support a Theme
On the other hand, multicolored Christmas lights can establish or solidify a theme. Use red, white and green lights for a traditional look, or experiment boldly with solid blue, pink or purple.
To further explore the multicolored Christmas lights vs. white Christmas lights debate, we looked at some famous Christmas trees.
Famous Christmas Trees
Fifty-thousand multicolored LED lights lit the 79-foot tall 2021 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, quite possibly the most famous Christmas tree in the world. However, all the other trees in the surrounding plaza were decked in white lights.
The very First National Christmas Tree, erected on the White House grounds in 1923, bore 2,500 red, white and green bulbs. The 2021 National Christmas Tree featured red and white lights. Incidentally, 2022 marks the 100th lighting of the National Christmas Tree.
The 41 Christmas trees and additional decorations inside the White House boast upwards of 78,750 lights. Judging by media photos, all interior White House Christmas lights are white. Well, that makes sense.
Considering the multitude of artfully adorned trees on home décor websites, most interior designers seem to prefer white Christmas tree lights.
But if you’re going for sheer impact, nothing beats colored lights. The more blinking, pulsing, chasing, musically orchestrated lights the better. Just ask any of the winners of multiple Christmas light contests around the country.
It’s a Tie
If, like ours, your debate on white vs. colored Christmas lights ends in a stalemate, consider a compromise. Why not borrow a beat from the White House and Rockefeller Center and incorporate both kinds of Christmas lights into your holiday decorating scheme? Place white lights in some areas and colored lights in others.
If that doesn’t work for you, some families take turns, using all white lights one year and multicolored Christmas lights the next.
White or Colored Lights: Your Call
When it comes right down to it, the color of your Christmas lights is a personal preference. Christmas decorations evoke so many emotions and memories that there really is no wrong way to decorate for the holiday.
So go ahead – start hanging your Christmas lights. We promise not to complain about your color choice.
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Visit our Lighting Resource Center for more information on types of Christmas lights, technical information and decorating tips.