There’s a special meaning behind this holiday tradition.  

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There’s something special about waking up on the fourth Friday of November. Groggy from a deep night’s sleep after a heavy Thanksgiving meal, you peek out window and notice your neighbor climbing a ladder, hanging lights along the trim of her roofline. Come nightfall, trunks of trees will be wrapped with glowing white bulbs and bushes draped with radiant multicolor strands. Seemingly snow-flocked Fraser furs will shine through some living room windows. There’s a special magic in the air the day after Thanksgiving, the unofficial start of the Christmas season, when the twinkling lights are turned on to illuminate the longer nights.

The holiday season has been celebrated with lights even before electricity was invented. In earlier times, Christmas trees were decorated with candles, which were lit only for a few minutes at a time. Even earlier than that, civilizations celebrated the winter solstice—the shortest day and longest night of the year—by lighting fires to symbolize a hope for the returning sun.

The first strands of lights were hung from the roofline Thomas Edison’s laboratory in 1880. During the first decades of their creation, string lights were expensive and only the wealthy decorated with them. When prices dropped in toward the middle of the 20th century, the decorating trend took off in America—and the momentum hasn’t stopped.

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Front lawns are decked with lights, syncing their flashy shows with local radio stations. Botanical gardens prep all year for holiday light displays, drawing thousands of visitors to walk through dazzling production. Even the hottest, most tropical places transform into winter wonderlands. These bright, festive shows illuminate the dark, cold winter nights, lending the same sentiments of hope that were celebrated hundreds of years ago.

The timeless tradition of Christmas lights will never go out of style. Parents will take their children on strolls through the botanical gardens; grandparents will drive grandchildren around town to marvel at decked out homes. Gazing at awe-inspiring holiday displays will cement themselves as fond memories in their souls, and the traditions will be passed from one generation to the next.

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