An Illuminating History of Electric Christmas Lights

Dec 15, 2014
courtesy of Wikicommons

courtesy of Wikicommons

Here’s another quick, fascinating bit of Christmas history for you on a Monday morning. I’ll admit, I’m not actually the biggest fan of Christmas (it’s a long story), but I do love tastefully done lights. We all know that the tradition of lights on the Christmas tree began with candles, but did you know that that tradition comes from Germany in the 18th century? But what about electric Christmas lights?

I think a lot of people would assume that the tradition of electric Christmas lights on trees is a relatively new one. In fact, it’s over 100 years old. Well over 100 years old. You might have heard Christmas tree lights referred to as “fairy lights” before. Well, it’s because the concept of a string of tiny electric lightbulbs was first used not at Christmas, but in the first production of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta Iolanthe on November 25th, 1882. (Yay G&S!) The women’s chorus in this operetta are fairies, and their costumes involved strings of electric lights. Well, the name stuck.

That same year (1882!) in America, the vice president of Edison Electric Light Company, Edward H. Johnson, was the first person to wire a Christmas tree with electric lights. A lot of papers reported the electrified tree as a publicity stunt, but—you guessed it—the idea caught on and electric Christmas lights began to steadily grow in popularity. By 1900, stores in big cities were decorating their shop windows with electric lights to draw customers.

Edward H. Johnson's electric Christmas tree lights

Edward H. Johnson’s electric Christmas tree lights

Mind you, the average household couldn’t even begin to afford Christmas lights for their trees. Not until the 1930s. The technology was there, though, and the wealthy and prominent businesses got in on the act from the beginning. That included the White House. The first president to have electric Christmas lights on his tree was Grover Cleveland in 1895. I bet that’s much earlier than you thought lights were around, huh?

As the price of electric lights came down from the 1930s on, they became more prominent in average households. Some of the more famous lights shows that we know today started fairly early too. Those Rockefeller Center lights in NYC? They were first lit in 1956.

Okay, but what about those ridiculous and outlandish displays of Christmas light overkill? You know. Everybody’s neighborhood seems to have someone who’s electric bill for December is double what it is for the rest of the year. You know when that tradition started? In the 1920s. That’s right, it started before indoor Christmas lights became the norm. That’s because in the 1920s General Electric would host contests for the best decorations, and everyone who could wanted to get in on that. (Sometimes I wish they hadn’t. ha!)

So there you go. A quick history of electric Christmas lights. They’re much, much older than most people would expect. So are you a big light decorator or do you like to keep it simple?
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Excerpt Wednesday – Trail of Longing – First Look

Dec 10, 2014

I’m so excited today to bring you the first look at my next novel in the Hot on the Trail series, Trail of Longing! It’s coming on January 5th, so without further ado….

[No Cover Yet – Cover Reveal Coming Soon!]

Emma pulled her focus away from Dean to see that they’d come to walk alongside her family’s wagon. Her father led the oxen from the ground, walking beside them as though they were white stallions instead of plodding beasts. Alice had gone to the back of the wagon to join their mother, who whispered furiously. Her eyes never left Dean.

“I’ll leave you ladies to take shelter in your wagon,” Dean said, letting go of Emma’s arm. “I’d better check on the miners anyhow.”

“Thank you so much, Dr. Meyers,” Mrs. Sutton skipped forward to make her goodbyes. “I haven’t met a truer gentleman in this entire wagon train. I do hope we’ll be seeing more of you.”

Emma’s heart caught in her throat at her mother’s audacity. Her embarrassment was only relieved a tad by Dean’s smile.

“I’m sure we’ll see much more of each other.” He nodded to Mrs. Sutton and Alice, then turned his smile to Emma. “Until next time, Miss Emma.”

“I….” Anything Emma could have said froze on her tongue. She pressed her lips into a tight smile and nodded.

As Dean turned to go, frustration poured in on her. When she was certain he was out of earshot, she huffed out a breath and hid her face in her hands. What was she thinking? How could it be so difficult to talk to such an agreeable man?

“Very well done,” her mother congratulated her. She scurried to Emma’s side as they walked on, raindrops beating down harder now. “You have him good and hooked.”

“Mother,” Emma sighed. “I don’t want to ‘hook’ anyone. Dean— I mean, Dr. Meyers, is a good, noble man.”

“Exactly.” Her mother smiled as if the sun had come out. “He’ll make a perfect husband for you.”

“Shh!” Emma would have slapped her hand over her mother’s mouth if she could. “Please!”

“Oh come now,” her mother scolded, waving Emma’s protests aside as if they were fluff. “You and I both know the importance of nabbing a good husband.”

“Husbands should not be ‘nabbed.’”

“All men need to be nabbed, dear,” her mother argued. “Otherwise they would wander the earth not knowing which way was up or what was good for them.”

Emma scoffed and crossed her arms to ward off the chill that the rain was bringing her.

Her mother turned serious, sliding closer to her. “I know you think I’m laying it on too thick, but we’ve both seen what happens when a girl makes an inappropriate match.”

They both glanced to the back of the wagon where Alice had hoisted herself into the bed and was busy rolling down the canvas coverings. Emma’s heart squeezed with sadness for her sister.

“Alice loved Harry,” she murmured to her mother so Alice wouldn’t hear.

“That is precisely the problem,” her mother replied.

Emma frowned, confused. “Harry was a good man.”

“He was a clerk and we never should have agreed to the match.” Before Emma could protest, her mother went on. “Dr. Meyers, on the other hand, is just the sort of man I have always wished to see you with. Now that he’s hooked, I know just how to reel him in.”

Dread filled Emma’s stomach. She knew what her mother was capable of. Her journey west had just taken a perilous turn.

 

Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t put this one up for pre-order. But never fear! If you visit my Amazon author page and click on “Add Favorite” right under my fabulous author pic, then I believe Amazon will email you as soon as any of my books come out. Wanna give it a try? Click right here.
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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Dec 08, 2014

Santa's_ArrivalWell, I have just a small little history snippet for you today. It came about because I wanted to base a little Cold Springs Christmas short story around the classic poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. But since this story takes place in 1904, I wanted to figure out if the poem would have been in common usage by that time.

Guess what? It’s a really old poem! There are a lot of interesting facts around it too. Starting with its origin. Did you know that the poem was first published anonymously in the New York Sentinel in 1823? It was actually written by Clement Clarke Moore, but Moore’s name didn’t appear in print as the author until 1837. The poem was originally sent to the Sentinel by a friend of Moore’s, and it was so well received that it was frequently reprinted after that.

Also, as the legend would have it, although the character of St. Nicholas had been in popular culture in many ways and in many countries for a long time, Moore was the first one to describe Santa with the physical features that we see in the poem. Better still, Moore modeled his St. Nick off of a local Dutch handyman. This all might seem insignificant and fun, but it was Moore’s poem that ended up codifying what Santa looked like from one tradition to another throughout America and later the world. Also, Moore made up the names of the reindeer.

There is also some controversy around who really wrote the poem. While Moore has been credited as the author, there is also a large contingent that claims it was really written by Henry Livingston, Jr.

Personally, I don’t care who actually wrote it, only that it’s such a wonderful part of Christmas and has so many evocative memories associated with it. I remember learning it to recite at a Christmas pageant one year in elementary school. I still remember about half of it verbatim today. I think most of us do, right?

So yes, it was perfectly historically correct to have Michael West read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas aloud to his children and all of the other children of the characters in my Montana Romance series. And if you’d like to read that short story (it’s really funny), pop on over to Facebook and join the Pioneer Hearts group today! If you comment on my post over there, you can also win a $25 Amazon gift card and a signed copy of the first book in my Hot on the Trail series, Trail of Kisses. So what are you waiting for?

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Excerpt Wednesday – Our Little Secrets gets another look

Dec 03, 2014

Excerpt Wednesday! How about another little taste of Our Little Secrets? It’s currently still free, soooo….

Our Little Secrets

The alley was almost as busy as the main street, but with housewives hanging laundry in their yards and children playing rather than town commerce. Charlotte received a few curious smiles and nods. She waved back, feeling entirely satisfied with her choices. She hugged her carpetbag.

She sighed as she turned onto the side road that lead back to Main Street where the bank was. Could she do it? Was she really mad enough to marry a stranger in a frontier town?

Of course she could, she answered herself. Michael West presented her with the opportunity to start over with everything she wanted, a job, a home, and a purpose. It was more than her step-father had ever tempted her with.

As Charlotte reached Main Street her glance fell on a man crossing towards the saloon. She gasped as her heart dropped to her stomach. It was him. Even with the distance she recognized his scruffy beard and stocky build. She clutched her carpetbag close and jumped back to press against the wall of the nearest shop. In an instant she was trembling from head to toe.

What was he doing here? The man had failed to rob her in St. Louis, but the terror of those desperate minutes when she had fought him off in the dark still haunted her. He wouldn’t have followed her this far, would he? It wouldn’t be worth the effort. She didn’t have that much.

Unless he was after more than the contents of their carpetbag.

She gulped and took a breath before inching her way to peek around the corner.

The man was gone. The few people who walked in the street appeared to be townspeople. Charlotte dropped her shoulders and let out a breath.

She hadn’t imagined him, had she? Maybe? But no. She’d fought off the would-be robber in St. Louis. She was certain she’d seen the same man again in Denver. That was most definitely him just now.

Someone was following her.

Like I said, Our Little Secrets is still free. You can download it on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and everywhere else.

Starting next week, I’ll be featuring excerpts from the next book in the Hot on the Trail series, Trail of Longing, Emma and Dean’s story!

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How Old Are Jigsaw Puzzles?

Dec 01, 2014

It’s Monday! And usually on Mondays I talk about history. Lately it’s been history that informs on whatever novel I’m working on (like the Oregon Trail, for example). But over this past long weekend, I fell headfirst into a small obsession, and it’s taken over my brain. I’m talking about jigsaw puzzles.

If you look closely, you can see this clever advertisement is actually a wooden puzzle. Courtesy of JJPuzzles via Flickr

If you look closely, you can see this clever advertisement is actually a wooden puzzle.
Courtesy of JJPuzzles via Flickr

So being the nerd I am, as I was puzzling away this past weekend, I caught myself asking myself, “Hmm, I wonder how old jigsaw puzzles are?” So of course I had to find out.

Turns out, they’re pretty old. The first jigsaw puzzle is credited as being a creation of London-based engraver and mapmaker John Spilsbury in 1760. Yep, puzzles are an 18th century invention! What I found particularly interesting is that the first puzzles were Spilsbury’s maps, mounted on wood and cut into pieces. His aim was to have people learn geography by putting the maps together. So those wooden map puzzles where each state was a piece that I loved so much when I was a kid were actually staying true to the original purpose of the puzzle.

Puzzles continued to grow in popularity through the 19th century. During that era, they were usually pictures pasted onto plywood with the design of the pieces traced on the back in pencil. The puzzle-maker would use those pencil lines to cut out the pieces with a fretsaw (not actually a jigsaw). I think it would be reasonable to assume that some of my characters, both in the Montana Romance series and in my Hot on the Trail series, would have passed the time putting together puzzles.

But the height of puzzle popularity came with the Great Depression. It makes perfect sense too. By that time, most puzzles were made of cardboard. They were no longer cut out by hand, but rather die-cut. That basically means they were cut by a giant puzzle-shaped cookie cutter. They were the perfect form of cheap entertainment in an era where money was tight. They were time-consuming, recyclable, and they could bring people together.

My current obsession

My current obsession

I always remember having puzzles around in our house growing up. They were the kind of thing that we did on summer vacation or on a rainy day. This was before video games were invented. Yes, for all you young people out there, now you know what we did to entertain ourselves before we were glued to an electronic device. We enjoyed puzzles at our house, but I’ll never forget going to visit my cousins when they were in the middle of doing a puzzle.

My cousins’ dad, Tom, had a rule for doing puzzles in his house. First you would lay out all of the pieces, face up. Then, no matter how big the puzzle was, you weren’t allowed to touch a piece unless you knew exactly where it fit. If you were wrong, you were done. If he was being generous, he would let you put together the border pieces first and then the rule would only apply to the middle. Oh, and you weren’t allowed to look at the picture on the front of the box either. This was some serious puzzling!

So did your family have any rules about doing puzzles? Do you still do them? Leave a comment and let me know!

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