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Light History and Types

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white mini lights in green Christmas tree branches

Christmas Lights - A Brief History

While candles are an age-old symbol of Christmas, electric Christmas lights have only been a common part of the holiday season for about a century. In 1882, Edward H. Johnson created the very first electric string lights and placed them on his Christmas tree. However, very few homes were wired for electricity back then - and even fewer people trusted the newfangled form of energy. 

It wasn’t until 40 years later, when  President Calvin Coolidge erected the first National Christmas Tree in 1923, that Christmas lights started to gain in popularity.

Light Types

Incandescent Lights

LED Lights

 Micro Lights

Vintage Lights

Icicle Lights

Rope Lights & Tape Lights

Net Lights


Candle Lamps


Battery Operated Lights

Night Lights

Left to right, C9 Christmas bulbs, patio globe lights, Edison bulb lights, multicolor incandescent mini lights

Incandescent Lights

Incandescent lights were the first type of light bulb. Traditional incandescent Christmas lights consist of a very thin metal wire encased in glass. When electricity flows through the wire, it glows white hot. The excess heat emitted by an incandescent bulb means that the lights can get very hot to the touch.

You may be familiar with vintage cone-shaped C-style bulbs, Edison lights and globe lights, as well as the popular incandescent mini lights.

LED Lights

For at least a century, Christmas lights didn’t change much. Then in the early 2000s, Christmas light manufacturers began to make use of newer technology, resulting in some exciting innovations in the types and styles of Christmas lights available. 

LEDs, or Light Emitting Diodes, are bright and long-lasting. Diodes also are tiny and some are programmable, resulting in a number of new lighting choices. In addition to mini LED lights, you’ll find LED icicle lights, vintage-style lights, net lights, rope lights, color changing lights and lights that can run in sequence or phases. Wide angle LED lights have a short, convex cylinder that is 25% brighter than traditional incandescent lights.

Due to their tiny size and flexible wiring, micro lights and rice lights are popular for crafting and use in smaller Christmas decorations. 

LEDs use a fraction of the energy of incandescent bulbs. This makes them an attractive option for decorating trees and homes, since you typically can combine more LED light sets than you can with incandescent lights. 

However, since LED lights can cost significantly more than incandescent Christmas lights, they are not everyone’s choice. Also, some people think LED light is uncomfortably vivid.

Many types of Christmas lights, including vintage look and Christmas mini lights, can be found in both incandescent and LED styles. 

A word of caution: While incandescent and vintage style LED bulbs are replaceable, LED mini lights are not. Due to their exceptionally long life, this is usually not an issue. They are completely sealed and watertight for excellent durability.

left to right, comparison between multicolor incandescent mini lights and LED outdoor lights strung on a bush

Micro Lights

Micro lights are smaller than mini lights, low voltage and use less electricity than mini lights, lasting up to 12,000 hours. Typically battery-powered on flexible wiring, micro lights have multiple decorating uses. You can find “fairy lights” tucked into vases or Mason jars, or even draped along a dining table to add a warm light to a holiday tablescape.

Micro lights do not have end-to-end connectors, which means they cannot be linked with other light strings. They are not recommended for outdoor use. Instead, these lights have low voltage adapters and multi-function controllers.

More About Individual Christmas Light Styles

Vintage Lights

If you love the “retro” look of Christmas trees from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, you’ll love our vintage Christmas lights. Christmas Central carries C5, C6, C7 and C9 vintage Christmas lights and globe lights in 12mm (G12), 25mm (G25), 30mm (G30), 40mm (G40) and 50mm (G50) sizes. You’ll also find vintage bubble lights that consist of a liquid-filled vial and an incandescent light bulb. As the bulb heats the liquid, it boils and bubbles for a fun effect that has delighted children and adults for decades. 

Christmas Central offers an extensive selection of vintage light sets and replacement bulbs, as well as twinkle flame tips and Edison bulb patio lights. You’ll find a huge range of styles and colors of incandescent and LED lights that mimic the classic look you remember. 

Icicle Lights

Icicle lights consist of a series of individual light strings set a few inches apart and extending from a main cord. Individual “drops” can range from five to 30 inches in length. Icicle lights are most effective when hung along an edge, like a mantel, eaves or gutter line, where they mimic the look of real icicles.While white icicle lights are traditional, Christmas Central also carries single and multicolored icicle light sets.

Our icicle lights category also  includes individual C7 icicle light bulbs, as well as LED icicle tubes, alternatively known as dripping icicle lights, snowfall lights and meteor lights.

Rope Lights & Tape Lights

Rope lights consist of LED or incandescent lights encased in clear or colored flexible tubing. Their flexibility make rope lights a good choice for many hard-to-reach applications, such as under cabinets, along deck railings and garden edging.

Tape lights incorporate Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) into flexible circuit boards known as “tapes.” Tape lights can be used under similar circumstances as rope lights. However, they are more flexible than rope lights and – unlike rope lights – can be cut and spliced together, which makes tape lights a great solution for lighting applications that involve sharp curves or angles. 

Net Lights & Trunk Lights

Net lights provide even lighting coverage over broad or unusually shaped areas, like shrubbery. Arranged in a grid-like pattern, much like a fishing net, bush lights enable decorators to evenly distribute a large number of lights with minimal effort. A typical size for net lights is 4 foot by 8 foot. Smaller trunk lights make it easy to evenly wrap lights around the trunk of a mature tree.  Smaller trunk lights make it easy to evenly wrap lights around the trunk of a mature tree. 

Light Projectors

Light projectors can enhance your outdoor Christmas decorations or they can be used in place of Christmas lights and other lighted lawn decorations.  Most Christmas light projectors have a choice of cutouts that are inserted into the device to determine the design that is projected onto your home’s facade, which serves as the “projector screen.” 

To enjoy the full effect of your Christmas light projector, keep the facade of your house relatively dark.

Candle Lamps

Christmas candles can be a beautiful addition to your holiday decor, but traditional candles are a fire hazard and a danger to children and pets..  in By comparison, flameless candles and candle lamps provide a safe and attractive alternative

Flameless candle lamps look remarkably similar to traditional candles. Some are even made of wax. However, today’s flameless candles are lit by LED lights that can flicker realistically and are extremely long lasting. Since they don’t burn or get hot, wickless candles are appropriate anywhere you might use a traditional candle – and many places where a lit candle would be a hazard. 

Battery Operated Christmas Lights

Since battery operated Christmas lights are self-powered, they are perfect to hang in places where no electrical outlet is available. Use battery powered Christmas lights or micro lights in crafts and decorations, light door wreaths or the garland around  your fireplace. Tuck them into an empty firebox for a beautiful glow. You can even add them to your Christmas sweater!

The majority of battery operated light sets consist of 10 to 20 lights with a power pack. Batteries are not included. Sets typically accept AA or C size batteries and are intended for indoor use only. 

Night Lights

Most households have at least one night light to illuminate a hallway or bathroom after dark. During the holidays, why not exchange your regular night light for one with a seasonal theme? Christmas Central offers a number of festive Christmas night lights that are sure to make those long winter nights a little cheerier.

More Christmas Light Questions & Answers

How many light sets can be pugged together end-to-end?

Most incandescent and LED light sets can be strung together to create a longer string, however combined light sets should not exceed 210 total watts. Light set wattage can vary, so make sure to check the product package or our website for the wattage on any of the light sets you plan to use.


Where can I use my LED light sets?
LED light strings are suitable for use indoors or out. You can find LED lights on many types of indoor and outdoor decorations, including pre-lit Christmas trees, wreaths, garland and lanterns.


Do I need a transformer for my LED lights?
Our LED light strings have a built in rectifier, which eliminates unwanted flickering and ensures delivery of the truest color possible without the need for a transformer.

comparison of white lights, from left, warm white, pure white and cool white bulbs

Why Don’t My White Lights Match?
As confusing as it sounds, not all white lights are the same color. 


First, let’s discuss “color” as it applies to white lights. 


White incandescent lights may be described as “clear” but they actually have a “warm” or yellowish tone similar to candle light. Inconsistencies across manufacturers may account for variations in the tone of your clear white incandescent lights.


Due to the differences in the type of light source, LED Christmas lights can have wider tonal variations, from yellowish warm white through bluish cool white light.


Warm white or clear white LED Christmas lights mimic the warm look of traditional incandescent white lights. Polar or cool white lights have a bluish undertone for an icy feel. Pure or natural white lights are considered “neutral” or colorless, with neither a yellow or blue undertone.


If you plan to combine new white lights with existing sets, your best bet is to pay attention to the product description - warm or clear white (yellowish), pure or natural white (colorless) and polar or cool white (bluish) - for the closest possible match.

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