Passersby get eyeful strolling lit streets

Picture the earth sitting in space: blue, green, and some puffy white, rotating rather mundanely at about 1,040 mph.

Now picture the earth from the same perspective around Dec. 25, except now the globe is radiating with a halo of colorful holiday glow.

Look close enough and you may even be able to spot one or two of those houses decorated with motorized Santas and lights illuminating so ridiculously that a nuclear power plant in Balabanovo, Russia is experiencing serious energy loss and technical difficulty.

The moral of the story is that lights make Christmas cool. Receptors located in the eye are light sensitive.
“There are two receptor types: rods and cones,” Michael W. Levine wrote in a June 2006 report for AccessScience, an online library of science and technology information.

“Rods are more sensitive than cones, being able to be stimulated by a single photon; cones cannot detect such dim light, but extend the range to far greater energies than the rods could handle. With the luxury of more light, cones can afford to be faster and more spatially selective, permitting faster and more accurate vision in brighter lights.”

According to Levine, we’re not just hanging lights so Santa Claus can spot the house from an altitude around 14,000 feet. Levine notes that more light is a luxury. With greater amounts of light, the cones within our eyes can produce more accurate vision.

So the next time Uncle Joe has too much to drink on Christmas Eve, plug in a few extra plastic Rudolphs to clear up his blurry vision. Then maybe he’ll finally get your name right.

Thomas Edison started the whole headache in New Jersey. Edison’s first light decoration was somewhat different from the conventional ones of today, but worked along similar lines.

It consisted of eight miles of underground wire over a square half-mile plot. There were posts topped with majestic glass globes enveloping still smaller, mysterious bulbs.

When Edison first turned his invention on, the garden state never seemed brighter. In fact, he even managed to impress the French tragedienne, Sarah Bernhardt, as she was present, absolutely adoring the event.

After that majestic night with Bernhardt, the idea for Christmas lights skyrocketed, according to the Edison Papers. The inventor commercially produced Christmas lights by 1888.

And 118 years later, they’re still a hit.

“I like Christmas lights a lot, man,” said Dimitri Papadopoulos, a senior math and religion double major, originally from Greece.

“Except for the blue lights. They’re not Christmassy at all to me. I feel like blue is so tacky. The Christmas tree at City Hall has blue lights,” Papadopoulos said. “Gross.”

Warren Sloat wrote in the journal, “American Heritage” that blue lights were actually quite popular during the depression years. Color choice plays an important role in the effect that lights have on individuals.

“I like white lights, personally,” Papadopoulos said. “It’s like the guiding white light, you know?”

But where, exactly, is the light guiding Papadopoulos?

“To the Christmas tree, man, where the presents are, of course,” Papadopoulos said.

Point well made.

Christmas lights, for those who celebrate the holiday, have become intertwined with tradition. Very much like a chord of Christmas lights of various neon shades, the tradition of decorating with lights seems to link us all together.

“Back home [in Nigeria], inside the house, we used a shiny material all over the walls, and when we had a Christmas tree, we would decorate it with lots of lights,” said Keishi Elegbe, a senior economics major.

“And when we didn’t have a Christmas tree, we would hang our lights on a room divider along with all of our other decorations.”

Thus, no matter if you’re from New Jersey,France, Greece, or Nigeria, very shiny and very bright is what it really comes down to. Edison created them, Bernhardt delighted in them, Papadopoulos is guided by them and Elegbe remembers through them. Without our modern day Christmas lights, the world would simply be one lonely ball of blue, green and puffy white, spinning mundanely and lacking that festive glow.

After all, nine flying reindeer and an oversized sleigh could probably be classified as a commercial vehicle in Pennsylvania.

Imagine driving it in the dark.

T.C. Mazar can be reach at tmazar@temple.edu.

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