I have to admit that when I was told that Central Oregon Daily News would be covering the Community Tree Lighting in downtown Bend Friday night — girl, I was really excited.
You see, when I was a kid, mom and dad would take us to downtown Seattle and watch the lighting every year from my dad’s office window.
Years later when I moved to Alaska, people from literally hundreds of miles around would brave the icy travel and bitter cold just to take part in one of the few remaining community holiday traditions. So you could say these things have a special place in my heart.
But, you know, I don’t really know how Christmas tree lighting got started.
While the custom of decorating Christmas trees has its origins in Germany, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that it caught on in the United States.
German immigrants brought the tradition with them and, by the mid-1800s, Christmas trees were becoming a common sight in American homes during the holiday season.
Now, the use of candles to illuminate Christmas trees was common in Europe. Initially, this tradition was also adopted by early Americans, too. But you can imagine what happens when you put a dry tree next to an open flame. And Americans quickly began looking for better alternatives.
The pivotal moment in the history of Christmas tree lighting came with the invention of electric lights.
In 1882, Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward H. Johnson, hung the first known electrically illuminated Christmas tree in his New York City home.The tree was adorned with 80 small electric light bulbs, which he hand-wired and wrapped around the tree.
But the tradition of electric Christmas tree lights didn’t exactly take off like wildfire. While Johnson’s display was a novelty at the time, it took a few decades for electric Christmas lights to become smaller, safer and more affordable, so that families like the Griswolds could lighten up our nights.
The concept of public Christmas tree lighting ceremonies like the ones here in Central Oregon gained popularity in the early 20th century.
The first real notable event took place in 1912 when a Christmas tree was illuminated in Madison Square Park in New York City, marking the beginning of a tradition that continues to this day with the annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge presided over the first National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington, D.C. Since then, this event has become an annual tradition, symbolizing the start of the holiday season in the nation’s capitol.
And it is on this fine day, in 2023, that the lovely folks of Central Oregon and my family here at Central Oregon Daily News throw the switch on the community tree and hope to God one of the bulbs isn’t shorted out.
The Bend Community Tree Lighting is Friday night at 5:30 p.m. on the Drake Park Lawn outside The Commons Cafe & Taproom. The full event runs from 4:00 – 8:00 p.m. with a lot of activities for the family. The entire Central Oregon Daily News crew will be there, so come on down!
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