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Christmas Tree
Lights Before


Christmas Tree Candles

Before 1900 in America, electrically lighting a Christmas tree was practically unheard of. Most families in America did not light their trees at all, while a few in the larger cities used candles or glass candle cups (also called Fairy Lights). A brightly painted red bucket of sand (or sometimes water) was always kept by the tree for the inevitable fire emergency, and many candlelit trees also sported a "Christmas rug" under the tree, (the forerunner of today's tree skirt), to keep wax drippings off of the floor. Even with the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties, lighting a Christmas tree, whether electrically or with candles, was not truly common. While the lighting tradition grew well in the 20s and 30s, it would not actually be until the years after World War II that a lighted Christmas tree in American homes would be considered universal.


Four examples of early 1900s Christmas tree candles


Fairy Lights

Although these lights weren't made specifically for Christmas trees, many of them saw service that way. These units held water and cooking oil, and the wick device was floated on top. When lit, these lights give a beautiful, sparkling effect in a darkened room. Other common uses of these delightful lights were as welcoming beacons on walkways and porches, window or mantle lights. In addition to the use of oil and water, some people used small candles, similar to the votive candles we use today. Other popular names for these lights are "Fairy Lights" and "Candle Cups"

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       Below is a German made floating wick kit for use with the Christmas Lights

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Please contact us if you have any images of these products that could be posted here.

Christmas Tree Candle Holders

From Germany, this counterweighted candle holder has the added feature of the matched pair of Lovebirds gripping the candle with their beaks. Exceedingly rare, this unit dates to about 1880 and is made of stamped tin and lead.



Three examples of beautiful counterweighted or "pendulum" candle holders. All three are of German origin and are rare examples of the art. they were intended for the smaller, table top sized trees so popular in the mid-to-late 1800s.


Beautiful and exceedingly delicate, free blown glass candleholders like this one rarely survive intact. This example is blown in the form of a lily flower, and has survived the years quite well.


A Christmas Lantern, manufactured in 1871 of tin and colored glass. The outer glass shell slides up to facilitate the lighting of the taper within. These were used in the same way that the glass candle cups were-- either hung on trees or used on walkways and porches.



Top and bottom views of an unusual and rare German "bough clip", dated 1876. It was designed to hold the candle out and away from the tree needles. It was not a successful invention, however, as the method used to hold the candle to the device was simply a spike which was to be inserted into the base. With the tapers being so small, the spike often cracked or split the candle at the base, making it useless. These clips were marketed for only two years.

UPDATE: The author recently received a kind note from Mr. Edmund Watts, who provided the following information about this type of candle holder. Mr. Watts writes:

My Grandfather, who was born in 1895, remembered the old Christmas candles and the troubles associated with them.  Every two or three years there would be a little fire on the tree, and it was always quickly extinguished; that was the original reason for requiring a really fresh tree.  They used those little saucers with spikes to affix the candles to the tree, but the proper use was to light one of the candles and use its flame to heat the spikes so that they would slip easily into the bases of the candles; very few were lost to breakage or splitting.

The author kindly thanks Mr. Watts. It is through efforts like his that this web site continues to grow.



Web site visitor Eric H. wrote to me, sharing these wonderful chiming candle holders. Eric reports that single candle-powered whirligigs like the ones pictured here "were designed to hang on individual branches, variants on the old counter-weighted candle holders".

Eric has an extensive collection of these wonderful old devices, spanning the years from 1900 through about 1980. To see a brief explanation of these, click here.



"Mertie,"  98 years young

George Nelson once had occasion to chat with Mrs. Myrtle Chadsworth, a wonderful woman 98 years young at the time. Click to see more Christmas features, including stories, music, and craft resources. Her vivid blue eyes sparkled as she remembered her childhood Christmases, and the traditional lighting of the candles early Christmas morn'. She reports that it was an exciting affair. Myrtie, (as she was called by her family), and her three sisters would be kept busy in another room by their oldest brother while Mother and Father would stand on each side of the /a> tree, lighting the candles quickly from top to bottom. As the last taper was lit, the children would be invited into the room to share in the wonderment of the glowing tree. Sadly, the candles would only be allowed burn for a precious few minutes, and all too soon it would be time to blow them out. She remembers that, as the youngest child, Father would pick her up for the honor of blowing out the last and uppermost candle. Myrtie said that some families, hers included, would visit the tree again for a re-lighting ceremony late in the evening, when they would gather once more to make private Holiday wishes for the upcoming New Year around the glowing tree. The Chadsworth family lit their tree with candles until 1921, when her father brought home a set of sixteen electric lights in a holly-covered box one Christmas Eve. Myrtie's eyes sparkled again as she remembered that Christmas, when she had the honor of turning on the table lamp to which the lights were connected. "The room and tree lit up in a rainbow of colors," she remembers. "And I can still in my mind smell the unusual odor the colored lamps gave off as they warmed up that first year." Myrtie said that the best thing about the new lights was that the family could leave them turned on all evening.

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