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When were colored Christmas lights popular?

Christmas lights are a beloved holiday tradition, bringing joy and warmth to many households during the winter season. While simple white lights used to be the norm, colored Christmas lights have become increasingly popular over the years. But when exactly did the tradition of using multi-colored Christmas lights really take off?

The History of Christmas Lights

The tradition of decorating with lights for Christmas dates back to the 17th century. Candles were attached to Christmas trees to represent stars in the night sky. In the 1880s, the first electric Christmas lights were created by Thomas Edison and Edward H. Johnson. These early electric lights were large and cumbersome. By 1900, smaller Italian string lights became available in the United States. However, only the wealthy could afford these early electric lights.

In the 1920s, pre-assembled light strings became more affordable and accessible for average households. Most of these early light strings emitted a single color, usually white or clear. The first strings of multicolored Christmas lights appeared in the late 1920s, though they only featured red, green, and blue bulbs.

The Introduction of NOMA Lights

Colored Christmas lights did not become widespread until the 1950s. A major innovation was the development of NOMA lights by the National Outfit Manufacturers Association (NOMA) in the late 1920s. NOMA patented the first outdoor miniature light sets in 1929. Compared to previous light strings, NOMA lights were smaller, more durable, and easy to assemble.

By the 1950s, NOMA was the largest Christmas lighting manufacturer in the United States. NOMA produced the Bubble Lite set in the 1950s, which encased each light bulb in a colorful, translucent plastic housing. These iconic Bubble Lites brought a vivid, whimsical feel to Christmas decorating.

The Rise of Colored Christmas Lights

As colored Christmas lights became more advanced and affordable in the 1950s, their popularity boomed across America. Department stores prominently displayed the exciting new lights to attract customers. An even wider array of colors became available, beyond just red, green, and blue.

Advertisements from companies like NOMA touted colored Christmas lights as a stylish, modern way to decorate for the holidays. By 1955, nearly 20 million households in America illuminated their homes with electric Christmas lights. The colored Christmas light trend continued gaining momentum in the 1960s and beyond.

Important Innovations

There were a few key innovations that enabled the widespread adoption of colored Christmas lights:

  • Miniaturization – Bulbs and other components became much smaller and more durable.
  • Pre-assembled sets – Strings of lights could be easily purchased rather than assembled bulb-by-bulb.
  • Variety of colors – Vibrant reds, greens, blues, yellows, and other colors became available.
  • Outdoor durability – Lights were designed to withstand winter weather outdoors.
  • Affordability – Prices of colored light sets lowered over time as manufacturing improved.

Popularity Over the Decades

Here is an overview of how colored Christmas lights gained popularity in American households by decade:

Decade Popularity of Colored Christmas Lights
1920s First introduced, but limited to red, green, blue. Mostly too expensive for average families.
1930s Gained some popularity in wealthy households during the Depression.
1940s Manufacturing halted during WWII, preventing adoption.
1950s Massive boom in popularity across American households.
1960s Continued growth in usage and variety of light colors/functions.
1970s – today Ubiquitous holiday decorating tradition.

Impact on Christmas Decorating

The introduction and adoption of colored Christmas lights dramatically transformed holiday decorating traditions in America. Here are some of the major impacts:

  • Enabled elaborate outdoor displays – Entire houses and yards could be covered in colorful, dazzling lights.
  • Complemented Christmas trees – Multicolored lights enhanced and highlighted Christmas trees.
  • Inspired new decorations – Other complementary decorations were produced, like wire frames adorned with lights.
  • Fostered neighborhood competitions – Neighbors vied to create the most elaborate light displays.
  • Created family traditions – Generations bonded while decorating together.
  • Boosted holiday spirit – Colored lights enhanced the magical, joyful feeling of the season.

Christmas decorating became more elaborate, creative, and community-oriented with the help of colored lights. They transformed dark winter nights into vibrant, cheerful displays. Although early strings were unreliable, modern light technology allows more dramatic and intricate displays than ever thought possible in the past.

Fun Facts

Here are some interesting fun facts related to the history of colored Christmas lights:

  • NOMA hired hundreds of workers each year just to replace all the burnt out bulbs and make repairs prior to selling them.
  • During WWII, NOMA stopped Christmas light production and manufactured materials like wire insulation for the military instead.
  • The first documented Christmas tree lit with electric lights appeared in 1882, over 130 years ago.
  • In 1963, NOMA introduced the first Christmas light set engineered to last the entire season without bulbs burning out.
  • General Electric reportedly hired a psychologist to design the most appealing Christmas light colors schemes.
  • The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was first illuminated by colored lights in 1966.


In conclusion, although simple white Christmas lights preceded colored lights, the technology did not fully develop to support widespread consumer adoption of colored lights until the 1950s. Companies like NOMA innovated with mini lights, color variety, durability, and affordability. This allowed colored Christmas lights to surge in popularity during the 1950s and become an iconic part of holiday decorating tradition ever since. The twinkling rainbow of red, green, blue, yellow, and other colored lights today provides a beautiful enhancement to any Christmas celebration.