Let there be (LED) light!



by Susan
Does this photo give you pause?  And not just about the tackiness of such holiday overkill but about the waste of energy, the gift of carbon emissions this homeowner is giving to their community?  Yeah, me, too.

Even when the display is more restrained and tasteful like this next one, it still raises the red flags of environmental incorrectness because we’ve passed a tipping point about all things energy, and nowadays even Al Gore gets attacked for excessive square footage.


Speaking of the Goracle, he naturally was blamed (by Bill O’Reilly, so consider the source) when the town council of Great Barrington, Massachusetts voted to scale back its display of "holiday lights" out of concern for the environment.

So could festive outdoor lighting be doomed in the age of global warming?  Consider the effect on the collective consciousness, especially here in the northern hemisphere where it’s dark and gloomy this time of year.  And paradoxically, holidays are depressing for many of us and we NEED all that light and color and the public cheerfulness of even the tackiest of displays.  Okay, I need it.

But I needn’t have worried because once again, technology comes to the rescue in the form of LED (light-eXmaslightsirelandmitting diode) lights.  They last 80,000 hours compared to 2,000 for incandescents, use 1/4 the energy, and present much less fire hazard due to their relative coolness.  National savings compared to incandescent mini-lights are estimated to be $100 million in energy costs every year and 144,000 fewer tons of carbon emissions.  If even half the incandescents replaced are not minis but full-size (typical of outdoor lights), the savings are more like $375 million and 470,000 tons every Christmas.  Rockefeller Center has switched to LEDs and looks as glorious as ever.

Another trend in holiday decorations noted by industry-watchers is more variety in "blow-up lawn art," like Santa on a motorcycle.  So not to worry – delicious tackiness will always be with us, and with more variety!
However glorious those blow-ups may be (or not), here’s hoping that technology continues to solve the problems and allow us to brighten our spirits when we need it most.  Imagine what these urban scenes must look like without those lights.

And Merry Christmas to all our Christmas-observing readers, from the GardenRanters. 

Photo credits:  top, by Blue Ridge Laughing in Richmond, VA; next, taken at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley, PA by ListenToReason; next, taken in Waterford,  Ireland by Wmgc; finally, in Kansas City by Kansas Explorer.

Browse another 200,000 or so photos of "Christmas lights" on Flickr. 



  1. I remember the original energy crisis of the 1970s when Christmas lights were discouraged and even Las Vegas dimmed the Strip.

    I think most of the Christmas displays are garish–an ugly display of conspicuous consumption–like living next to a pachinko parlor in Tokyo. How much more beautiful a single candle would be in a window on these dark nights, reflected in the snow and glittering in frosted windows.

    For all the talk about conserving energy, it seems all talk this time around. 55 mph speed limit anyone?

  2. I also appreciate a single candle, but I admit like colored lights sometimes, too. These solar technologies are mighty appealing for that. The solar Christmas lights that my community gardener friends Diane and Sarah bought for Urban Ministry are ideal (they also put solar garden lights in their community garden plot last summer, which was very cool – they got them at a Dollar Store for a buck each).

    Anyway, as a counterpoint, here’s a different kind of Christmas decoration, creches, from the University of Denver’s collection:


    Completely unplugged and delightful. I found them while looking for something public domain as counterpoint to pics from the Center, that I wanted to post along with some music I decided to try using, playing around with youtube (yeah, it’s gotten worse, now that recorder is audible…)

    I used to scoff at youtube, but there are dozens of links to community gardens and gardening with the homeless – I had no idea.

    We’re eating too much today, but nevertheless it is nice to have grown some of the dinner – greens, sweet potatoes (that are really sweet), winter squash, broccoli.

    A blessed holiday season to all, whatever your traditions, and thanks again, Susan, to you and your sisters at Garden Rant. Every single post speaks to me, teaching me, challenging me, making me laugh. You all are a gift to us all.

  3. We are already on the run down to Spring, the longest night is past. Season’s Greetings, Garden Ranters, and best wishes for another year of great garden ranting.

  4. Susan: about 2 blocks from me is a real estate company office on the main drag and each holiday season every square inch of exterior surface is covered with lights. I’ve been in twice to share my concern, but they say it’s good advertising. I’m half-thinking of donning a red beret, finding their circuit breaker and giving us all a rest for one night.

  5. You know,I keep going back and forth on these things and how environmentally friendly all of these “advancements” are. For example, I wanted to buy candles for my windows so of course I bought LEDs… but is it really better for the environment for me to buy new LED light strands and throw out all of my old strands?

    For the two weeks that I even have them lighted (for an hour or two each day, max) it seems to me that I’m better off keeping the old ones until they burn out, and concentrate my environmental efforts into other areas. But then, I just light my tree–not a whole huge display. 🙂

  6. We used colored LED lights on our tree this year and are very happy with them, although we do notice there is a different quality of light. It is not as bright. I think it makes the tree look full of gumdrops. We love it. Throwing out working Christmas lights is a problem, but I know lots of people who routinely throw out each year’s Christmas lights because they are so fragile and can’t replace or repair one blown bulb, which makes the whole string useless. This will not happen with LED bulbs which are easily replaced individually.

  7. LED lights are the bomb. I don’t have any, but wish I did. I really don’t do much–a few tasteful window candles that are just on a few hours a day. My husband is ultra paranoid about electricity, and that limits our efforts.

    On the other hand, looking at full-out-insane holiday displays is a guilty pleasure for me. Most are in the burbs, not in my neighborhood. I hope to post a really wild one before New Years, if Ron gets me the image.

  8. OK, Eliz, the gauntlet has been thrown, or passed, or whatever. Photo coming.

    I have had trouble for the last 2 years finding LEDs. I usually wait for the after-Christmas sales (which frequently begin a week before Dec. 25 now, given our accelerated consumer culture) to buy holiday stuff for the next year, but LEDs seem to fly off the shelves around here. Which I guess is a good thing, though I suspect it has more to do with their trendiness/newness than their energy efficiency.

    For the record, I love Christmas lights of all kinds, both as a source of light (year-round, indoor/outdoor) and as perhaps the primary form of self-expression for people who don’t normally think of themselves as artists. It’s not about kitsch for me, it’s a series of art installations, some beautiful, some hideous, most utterly unique. For this year’s best example, check out the amazingly ambitious 4-family project in Ontario, CA at calico.whittaker.ca. It ain’t too green, but it’s red, yellow, blue, and pretty incredible.

  9. Led lights are not widely available here. But then I don’t go over board on my light decorating. A few bushes and around the front porch. Except this year I didn’t put any lights up at all because of a power outage for 12 days.

  10. I love lights, and this time of year I NEED them. Up here (latitude 53) it’s dark at 4:30 pm and it is now 8:50 am and sun not up yet.

    My lights consist of one star (about 5 feet diameter), hung on the front window, which has the advantage of being a cinch to put up, even if it is -40C. I replaced its big old incandescent bulbs with LEDs a couple of years ago and the quality of the light is different but nice. This year at a pre-Christmas sale, I stocked up on LED indoor lights for next year’s tree. I’ll pass the old mini-lights on to work so they’ll get a few more years of use before they crap out.

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