Presented on this page are some of the
wonderful Christmas memories sent to my wife and me by website
visitors. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as we have.
From Ralph W. Robinson II:
(After visiting your site)...my
thoughts immediately turned to the Christmas lights in my home in
suburban Philadelphia. Every year as I grew up from birth through high
school, the same lights decorated the large room off the living room.
It contained many windows, and was where our huge floor to ceiling tree
stood every year. Under the tree were many standard gauge Lionel trains
running, and they ran through the entire room as well.
Each year, from the very early 1930's to the early 1950's, along with
the cone type lights on the tree, we had light strings around each of
about 12 windows as well. But the bulbs in these, red and green,
were all bell shaped, although not much larger than the cone, and were
made I am certain, in Japan. I do also recall the Mazda lights
and GE lights
on the tree strings. The window lights always had blinkers in the
sockets, and of course alternated on and off.
The funny thing is, I don't remember many ever burning out, and they
were always on at least a month, every night, year after year. After
the 50's, they were stored away in my mother's & father's attic,
and were still there when she died at 101, about five years ago.
My Dad was an electrical engineer with the Pa. Bell Telephone company
his entire life, and kept our trains and lights in first class shape.
If you are familiar with Lionel Standard Gauge trains, they are quite
large. As I grew up from
a little boy, my Dad kept expanding the layout under the tree each
year, and it evolved into a layout where trains went up elevated ramps
circling a mountain, and came roaring down banked curves at bottom,
even though the current shut off before their downward path, just like
a roller coaster would. Often, my Dad had three separate trains running
same tracks, at the same time!
Our neighbor, was an architect who designed amusements at Willow Grove
& Woodside Parks in Philadelphia., and Palisades Park in New York.
Through him, my Dad learned how to make plaster-of-Paris plaques and
villages, which were set in each year among the pattern of the track
layout. Christmas strings were embedded in the base castings,
leading to the little houses which were lit with the C-6 cones.
I would guess the lights were all from the late 1920's, certainly no
later new, than the very early 1930's.
I will attach an early picture I came across recently, although it was
more elaborate in years that followed. The window lights were
apparently not on at the time...they encircled each window of many like
those you see...all bell shaped light bulbs.
I think I should add as a credit to my
Dad's devotion and love, that Santa put all that up on Christmas eve,
after my two brothers and I had gone to bed. There it was, early every
Christmas morning! I don't know how Santa managed it, year after
Best regards, Ralph W Robinson, II
Click to enlarge Ralph's
1939 Christmas picture.
From Jim Vieceli, a Lighting Product
Specialist with Sylvania:
We still get questions every Christmas season regarding
the SYLVANIA Fluorescent Christmas lights from the 40's. I found your
information invaluable. I am amazed at the emotion this product
can still generate. I have included a typical email we receive for your
I have an amazing true story I want to share with you.
On Easter Sunday, 1945, my husband's mother and father, Henrietta and
Robert McAfee, were married. The following Christmas (1946) they
eagerly bought their first string of Christmas lights, a string of
round pastel shaded Sylvania bulbs. Every Christmas the newlyweds
Henrietta and Robert proudly hung the lights on the tree.
Over the years there were young ones to share the joy of
the Christmas tree trimming...one by one, there were six children, to
be exact: Robbie, Mike, Pat, Sharon, Nancy and Martha. And each
one of these six remembers the excitement of the annual hanging of the
"first" Christmas tree lights their mom and dad had bought
together. Would they light up again this year, after all these
years, the children wondered, as they drug the lights out of the
box? And the lights always worked. It is true, by 1955, one or
two lights had burned out. But this "first" string of lights was always
the most special on the tree, even if one or two lights were gone.
Then in 1960 the most important family light burned out.
The family's father, Robert, died of a heart attack, leaving six
children and a then unemployed widow to raise the children. Imagine the
hush the next Christmas as the string of lights came out of the box.
The family hovered breathlessly, waiting to see if they could rekindle
their father's warm spirit and their mother's happiness by lighting the
family tree with these special lights. And year after year, the lights
worked. And worked. And worked. Year after year, decade
after decade, they worked, with one or two fewer lights here and there,
until in 1980, 35 years later, only one light was left on the
This light, of course, took the place of honor at the
top of the family Christmas tree every year after that. By then,
the six children had flown the coop...they were off raising their own
families and trimming their own trees. But when they called from
afar or just across town to see if mom had gotten the tree up yet, the
first question was always, "Did the light work?" And it
I entered the family as Mike's wife in 1989, and every
Christmas since I too have waited breathlessly as he asked the crucial
question. Just today he called his mom from a cell phone as we
left the airport: "Did you get the tree up?" Upon hearing the answer,
he paused, as he always does, and I knew what he'd ask next: "Did the
light work?" And the answer, as always, was "Yes."
Thank you, Sylvania, for a priceless gift to a family
who grew up without their father but could always remember the
happiness they shared with him through the product you built with such
care. 1945-2002. Who would have thought a single light bulb could
have been the most important family tradition at Christmas for over 55
From Kyle Sund, a Christmas
In 1994, my partner Jeff and I made a
hobby out of exploring abandoned houses out in the country. We used to
find all kinds of cool stuff. One time, I found a complete 1960's
Aurora slot car set in a house with a roof so rotten you could see
through it. Two weeks later, it was torn down.
One of our finds was a box of old Christmas tree decorations from the
40's. It went into storage and was forgotten about.
Jeff and I moved in together a couple days before Christmas. On the
23rd, he brought home a nice little live tree. We needed a stand and
decorations, remembered the stuff we'd found and went to see what was
there and if it was usable and enough for a small tree. It was all in
nice shape and enough to do the tree, including 3 sets of these
"series" lights. I hadn't seen them before and was kind of excited by
the odd shape of the pointy lamps. We decorated the tree with these
forgotten lights and ornaments, and it looked very vintage, and very
My friend, Mike, who must be about 50 now, came over to see our new
place (a small house). He was taking off his coat, but then stopped and
went for the tree, dragging his coat behind him with one arm still in!
There, he pointed at one of the lights and said "We had these as a kid!
Oh my God, where did you get these?" I told him.
He proceeded, after he got his coat off, to tell me about how every
year at Christmas, he and his Dad pulled the lights out, tightened the
lamps, checked to see if they'd light (with series lights, a loose or
burnt out lamp breaks the circuit, and none will light up), then put
them on the tree. A sure bet was that one would go out, and you'd have
to spend 5 minutes checking all 8 lamps to find the bad or loose one.
Mike remembered how mock-infuriated his father would get with these
lights. It was his big family memory of Christmas.
The next day, Mike came over again and he presented me with a very old
little boys sock. I'll never forget it- it was light blue. He said,
"Here, I want you to have these. You're the only one who will
appreciate them." and held out the sock.
In the sock were 6 of these little, pointy C-6 lights he'd saved from
his childhood- from their last string of series lights. Eventually, his
parents had replaced them all with C-7 (nightlight bulb sized) lights
that were much less troublesome.
He was glassy-eyed, so I refused and told him I couldn't take them. He
absolutely insisted. We tested them all and they all still worked. The
next day, I put little Sharpie marker "M"s on the bases, so I would
remember where they came from. I thought they might be rare and wanted
to log a record of anything I might acquire.
Jeff and I were big antiquers, so from that point on I kept my eyes
open. I started spotting loose sets here and there and buying them,
then I started finding them in the original boxes. One of the boxes I
found later that year, Mike commented that it looked familiar (I used
to show him everything I found).
My friend Scott managed a Kinkos, so
we reproduced 3 more of these boxes. Into these I put some of the
series light sets I'd found (they're not hard to find, especially
without their original box).
A week after Thanksgiving, I went to
Mike's house (where to my dismay, I saw he'd already put up his tree,
complete with many of his family?s old decorations). I handed him this
big, wrapped box and said, "Here's your Christmas present, but you have
to open it now." He did. Inside were the 3 boxes of lights. In the
bottom one, I also included the sock with the 6 "M" lights. When he got
to this, he looked at me and began to cry. For like 10 minutes. That
made me cry. Then, he got up and said, "Help me." and began pulling
ornaments off the tree. We took everything off, added the colorful old
lights to the tree, and redecorated it. I bet we sat for a half hour
just looking at it.
I never quit looking and buying. Since then, Mike's gotten more series
lights from me, including some cool old bubble lights. He uses them
To me, each and every one of those little lights might be someone's
dear memory of Christmas, and although they might not be MY memories,
and I don't know who originally owned them, I preserve them. When I see
a set from the 1920's or 1930's with one or two 1950's lamps mixed in,
carefully tucked in their well cared for box, I just know someone else
used and loved them year to year. When you dig out the same decorations
year after year for decades, it's like seeing old friends, like you
just had them in your hands yesterday. I give the lights a home. It's
just what I do.
That was a defining moment in my life. My collection has brought me
countless hours of joy. I spent the years before Jeff died doing this
with him. The best quality time we ever spent, just out antiquing. All
because a little boy saved something in a sock, because it reminded him
of his fondest childhood memory.
The 1994 Tree
(Click to enlarge)
|From Don Lachie, a Christmas light
I was always thrilled as a kid when
the lead tinsel would fall on the tracks of the train running under our
tree. At the time I could not figure out why it normally could lie
across the train tracks untouched but look out when the train went over
it!!! After a while I realized that if none dropped onto the
tracks by chance that you could place a strand across the track
deliberately then start the train, then know exactly the spot to
look for the action. I was in awe of the sparking and snapping as
well as the strange smell of the ozone produced in the process. I
always felt that it was perfectly safe as that flimsy strand was no
match for the heavy copper wire connecting the tracks and that
transformer seemed to be a super heavy solid black steel box that could
not be phased by a tiny bit of tinsel. This was more fun than just
running the train! The many steel wheels of the locomotive and
cars made for multiple flashes. I was found out when I got too
over zealous one time and my parents noticed the tree was looking
bare near the bottom and an abundance of short silver strands
were only located under the tracks. The many black marks on the
track and the smell were not possible to hide.
We also always put the lead icicles on
one at a time and took them off the same way then carefully laid them
between magazine pages to store for the next Christmas. I thought that
this was because they were real silver and were the most expensive
holiday item in the house, little did I know that they were lead
as they did tarnish badly with each passing year so I thought that they
most likely were real silver, the only silver that we had in the house
when I was growing up. Many of our relatives also
saved them too so it did not seem odd until I found out that other
people always had new shiny icicles each Christmas them I began to
Along with this I remember the one
larger string of C-7 lights and a couple sets of C-6 with those strange
pointed bulbs and the fact that they all went dark when a problem
arose. I think the tree had the exact same ornaments each
year with exception to a box or two added in later years. They are
still packed away in my parent's attic yet as I got new ones with
a reduced decorated tree from Sears that was always used in later years.
At the time I was tired of the
sameness but now realize that they were like cherished faithful friends
that were always there year after year. The various styles of
Shiny Brite boxes with their plain cardboard and single-color
printing. Indents and unusual shapes of glass from
Germany, Poland and other European countries. All with the thin
edged slip-on lid and the universal cardboard divider inside.
Back then I did not realize the treasures that these simple boxes held
but now I know the stories and history of their production and
sale. Then I wondered why would anyone buy those plain glass ones with
only a thin painted ring or two around them yet alone keep putting them
on the tree each year. Now I know better that these were the
examples of keeping Christmas alive in a world torn apart by a war that
so impacted all that you could not even buy normal goods no matter how
much money one had. We had many that were only one or two of a
kind that were given to us by people opting to replace their old
ornaments with new ones, often of shiny unbreakable plastic or satin
balls to be more modern. I feel good that these old decorations
were not disposed of but were allowed to continue to celebrate
the joy of Christmas and remain a part of someone's family
yet. We gently hung each one on the tree and always packed them
away the same manner. I know for sure that most of these are older
than I am, and every one has a fascinating story behind it, even the
plainest simple glass ball that carries the many marks of being
lovingly displayed over many holiday seasons.
|From Lee Lowry, a Christmas lighting
One year the folks set up the tree and
were tired after putting on the lights and ornaments. So they decided
to let us children put on the icicles, which were still made of lead
foil in those days and left the room to get supper on the table. This
proved to be a mistake, as rather than carefully hanging each strand on
the branches, we thought it would
be much more fun to throw it at the tree. Well, it was fun until
the folks heard the gales of insane laughter coming from the living
Naturally they had to investigate to see what was so funny. The
tree, of course, looked like a mess because of the haphazard way the
foil had landed on the branches. So we caught the dickens. It was
always so hard to have fun at our house. As I recall we younger ones
were banned from the room, and my older sister had to help the folks
take off all the icicles and hang them correctly.
We never did that again, but I still remember how much fun it was
to lob clumps of the heavy old lead icicles at the tree. We would also
lump the icicles into balls and put them in our mouths to chew on.
Lead, for heaven's sake! I still haven't figured out how we all
made it to adulthood.
Michael, a Christmas lights collector in the UK:
Way back in 1966, at the age of
eight, I went with my Dad into the town center of Leicester, here in
the United Kingdom. We parked our car up right in the centre of the
city, as you could in those days, and walked a few hundred metres to
the Woolworth's store. We were going to buy our first artificial tree.
Until this moment, we had
always had a fresh and beautiful real tree, but as my Mum and Dad had
my baby brother to think about, they decided to buy a tinsel covered
tree (known in the United States as an aluminum tree). I remember
walking down to the store holding my Dad?s hand, wondering what this
tree was going to be like.
When we got into the
store, the tree didn't look like much- basically just wire and tinsel
in a tree shape. I have to say I was not impressed! The tree cost my
dad 2 shillings and sixpence, and in the decimal money we have in the
UK today, this would cost about 12 pence! ( I could have
purchased eight of these trees for ?1 or eight for $1.50 American)! We
carried the strange little tree back to the car and took her home.
Little was I to know that this was to be the beginning of a very long
My Mum and Dad gave the
three of us some wonderful Christmases, ones to be proud of and to
remember fondly, and the little tree played a huge role in that. Every
year from then on, we put the little tree up, and every year we added
more decorations and things to it. Sadly, my Mum and Dad parted ways in
I lived with my Dad until
I decided to venture off into the world on my own. As the years passed,
there came a time when my Dad was clearing out the house and had
decided to throw the tree away. Purely by chance, I called by that day,
and when I discovered his intentions, I just could not let the old girl
go to the rubbish tip! I took her home where she was put up on display
for the next few years.
Once again, I followed
the family tradition by adding a few new decorations to the old
favourites to try and make her look her best. Sadly, after a few more
Christmases, she was beginning to look very tired.
By this time I had met my
wife, and we were moving in together. The little tree had lost most of
her tinsel bits, the odd branch and most of her former shape, but she
had decidedly had not lost all those memories of the wonderful
Christmases of the past that I had shared with my family! I put the
tree back into her original box (which, by the way, still had the
original price tag), and I stored her up in the attic where she would
be safe and sound.
Since that time our own
family has been born, and over the years my wife and I have had several
trees. Every Christmas, I love and enjoy the Season, with the
decorations, trees and of course the lights, but I also cannot help but
remember the Christmases long past. I think about them and how we
celebrated with that little tree. Every so often, I climb up to the
attic, just to make sure she is still there, safe and away from harm. I
will always love and treasure her, and she will stay in the attic for
as long as she needs!
|Here's another memory from Lee Lowry, a
Christmas lighting collector:
Back in the 1950's when Douglas firs were the "standard" for Christmas
trees (hardly anyone in our area had artificial or long needle trees
then--the artificial were small and unattractive and the long needled
ones simply not yet available) misshapen scraggly trees were far more
common than nice ones. They were, after all, the trees the lumber
companies harvested in their thinning process, both in the Northwest
and in Michigan, so they probably weren't the best to begin with. We
had trees from both areas. If the folks got out early and bought the
tree while the selection was good, we usually had an attractive one.
But if the harvest was poor, the preceding year very dry, or they
waited until all the good trees had been snapped up by others, we would
end up with some pretty sorry looking specimens.
There was one year my mother got the tree very late and while tall (we
always had 8-footers) it had some appalling gaps in it. Everyone's
disappointment was evident as soon as we got the poor thing set up in
the stand. Usually the trees had a 'good side' and a 'bad side' and
we'd turn it so the best side faced into the living room. This tree was
uniformly bad on all sides, and noticeably lacking about 2/3 of the way
up. What to do? There was no possibility of getting a better one that
late in the season. So that was the year we put on nearly everything we
had in the decorations boxes, and in the end, the sad scrawny tree with
all the holes in it looked surprisingly good because there were enough
decorations on it the holes were no longer very noticeable. We all felt
so much better about how the "ugly duckling" turned into a "swan" after
it had enough "jewelry" spread over it. We usually used all the lights,
but not all the ornaments. That year we used everything we had except
for a few ancient ornaments that had lost their paint.
You know, it's funny, but I remember that unfortunate tree and the
decorating of it better than all the years we had 'normal' trees.
Bob Riddel, a website visitor, has
several childhood memories of Christmas and lights. Bob writes:
A Christmas Remembrance-
I spent the first 16 years of life attending First
Presbyterian Church of Duluth MN, a wonderful old sandstone building
built in the 1890's. I even found the old gas fixtures in one of
the attics on a clandestine snooping expedition. I wasn't always
the best little child and ducked out once to go exploring; sermons can
get boring to a child. I went downstairs and checked out the tree in
the Edson Room, which had a 16' ceiling. It was decorated with
the Krystal Star lights. The sockets were wired in parallel
using cloth covered rubber wire and there was the most huge transformer
nestled in the lower branches. It had big heat fins on it and
wicked looking brass screw terminals to which were connected the wires
for the lights. Man, those things looked like something right out
of a Frankenstein movie. Touch those, no way! I remember
how beautiful those stars were and only being a short little 4 year
old, it looked like the top of the tree went as high as heaven or just
slightly under it. Someone had thoughtfully left them on so I
could look for quite a while, a definite fire safety NO NO. Only
got into a little trouble for that one but I can still remember how
perfect the colors appeared. Those were the days when we could
use real trees. At my age, memories are getting to be more
Here?s another of Bob memories:
Probably my first word was Mama but it could have been
light (as in Christmas light). I was an only, precocious child of
older parents so I had a few advantages over the multiple sibling set
and knew how to use them. One holiday time, our tree was in
the dining room in front of the east window with mostly C-7 sets but
there were a few C-6. The NOMA end adapter of one C-7 set had
broken and my Dad (an auto electrician) had soldered a NOMA male plug
with female outlet on to the end so we still could plug additional sets
in. He had thoughtfully friction-taped the prongs to keep things
safe. You ought to have seen what a lead icicle can do in the
bottom of a socket but that is another story. (I chewed one once and
only once, it hit a filling and I learned about the principles of
batteries!) Anyway, I saw what had been done and wondered
what would happen if I plugged that taped end in the other outlet in
the room so ... after unwrapping the tape, I plugged it into the
extension cord from that outlet and discovered what happens when
electricity meets in the middle. There wasn't much of a pop and
flash but the 30 amp fuse that handled almost all of the house blew out
quite nicely. Dear, patient Mother discovered the problem,
unplugged the extra connection, put in a new fuse and I got to sit in
the corner and think about it. At 5 years old, sitting is
definitely punishment. I still remember the result of that
experiment and never did it again although I did do other things.
Isn't life grand, especially during the holidays?
And here, Bob share with us a story
of his early school days and Christmas:
When I was in first grade, I would sometimes take some
C-6 bulbs with me to keep in my desk. Our desks were the wooden,
screwed to the floor with iron scrolley work on the sides so teacher
could tell whose desk was really messy. I keep the bulbs in a
safe, not to be seen by teacher, spot. One day, one got loose and
went through the scroll work, hit the floor and popped with a heart
stopping noise. I was mortified because it was my blue Japanese
lantern. My teacher came to my desk with a broom, dustpan and a
look that said, "Sweep it up now!? I was so embarrassed as I
swept up the pieces because the other children looked at me like I was
the most unusual person on the planet, no words were spoken but the
looks said it all. So much for first grade.
Next year it was Miss Jenks for 2nd
grade. She always wore white blouses with ruffles around the
sleeves and wore her hair in a definite '30's style and this was 1954.
She was quiet but you didn't mess with her. After Thanksgiving,
she brought in her little artificial tree that had a C-6 set woven into
it. One day, she plugged it in and it didn't light. Miss
Jenks was perplexed, she said "Oh dear," which I translated into "I
want help with this one." I told her I knew what to do. She
did have spares, (I kept mine at home since the first grade
experience), and I took one and did the usual bulb exchange. Of
course, the one that was bad was an old Mazda marked lamp that I
admired. She praised me for my efforts and the stain of first
grade was removed. Isn't amazing what will stay with a kid after
all these years?