Ask the Architect

Ah, the holiday lights


Q. I’m trying to decide on many possibilities for lighting this holiday season. My kids want a big light display with Santa and reindeer on the roof, so I’m pondering using my light bulb strings, forgetting the Santa idea, and adding LED lights. Our tree is in the living room and we use the bulbs for that. We’ve had the bulb lights in the family since I was young and I hate getting rid of them, but they’re getting harder to replace. Can I use both together, in the same string? Are LEDs safer? What is the origin of lighting trees, anyway? Does anybody really know? It’s a lot of work!

A. I light up at the very thought of the holidays. From a course I took as an elective in college, called The Calendar — taught by, of all people, a Hasidic rabbi who also had a doctorate in history — I learned the origins of many cultural practices. Many different cultures observed that, each year, the days grew shorter, and the world might be coming to an end as a result. They all worshipped, in their own way, hoping the days would get longer again and the world would be “reborn.”

In the Norse culture, there was the practice of making a sacrifice to the god of light, Baldur, son of Odin, chief of all the gods. Baldur was radiant, actually shedding light, and was thought to cause life to flourish. So the Norse people climbed to the tops of evergreen trees that seemed to touch the sky, cut the treetops off and dragged them to the village square. By using the trees to build a giant bonfire on the darkest of days and chanting, they saw the days grow longer again. As northern Europeans built better and stronger homes, they began the practice of bringing the treetops indoors and instead of lighting the trees on fire, hung candles in holders from the branches, still chanting the sacrificial prayers. The tradition passed down to their European descendants, and when the light bulb was invented, it became much safer than using candles.

LED (light emitting diode) lights are the latest and an excellent substitute, because they give off almost no heat, and just by varying the temperature of the diodes, they can be any color of the rainbow. I know it’s a tradition in your household to use those bulbs, but incandescent bulbs have been the cause of many fire disasters, as was their predecessor, the candle. Since we have a much safer and less complicated way to illuminate our homes, I highly recommend strings of LED lights. Another benefit is that they last much longer, use much less electricity and are often encased in a clear plastic cover that is resistant to extreme weather. Do yourself a favor: Ditch the old lights. Save money and time, and you’ll be safer this holiday season. Good luck and Happy Holidays!

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.