This year as every year, the troops are mustered and the lines are drawn. It's time for another round in the age-old holiday debate: White Christmas lights or colored lights?
In this perennial conflict over Yule aesthetics, great battles will be fought. Warring Christmas decorators will stop talking to each other. Families will be split. There will be no peace in the land.
Regardless which side you take, imagine this: You're prepping for the holidays and just discovered gaggles of last year's Christmas tree lights in the bottom of the box. They're hopelessly tangled and one bulb is broken which means the whole string doesn't work. Sigh... you're off to the big box store to find more.
Buying replacements is easy, because when it comes to Christmas tree lights, whether they're white or colored, the only choice is between energy-gobbling incandescent lights and sterile LED Christmas lights. Together, they've got a lock on holiday shelf space in stores across the country.
LED Christmas lights use fewer kilowatts, but despite this, Christmas lighting still sucks up staggering amounts of power overall. LED or incandescent, white or colored -- the U.S. guzzles more energy to power its Christmas decorations than some countries use in an entire year, according to National Public Radio and the Center for Global Development.
Putting Real Candles on Our Christmas Trees is Part of Our Christmas DNA
The bottom line: We've fallen prey to the blinding dazzle of Christmas bling and we're over-illuminating our holidays. This makes it easy to forget that there is an alternative: Candlepower. In fact, decorating our Christmas trees with real candles is part of our Christmas DNA. It's just that we've forgotten it.
Christmas enthusiasts are showing us that the choice increasingly isn't only between white lights or colored lights. As more people opt to simplify the holidays and the "Slow Christmas" movement picks up support, Christmas tree candles are getting more love. They're an appealing, natural, low-bling alternative to both LED and incandescent Christmas tree lights, and they're gaining traction.
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Going off the grid for the holidays and decorating with candles is not new. Christmas tree candles, clip-on candle holders and hanging pendulum candle holders were standard fare when our grandparents and generations before them celebrated the holidays.
Ask any relative within living memory of the pre-electric era and they'll likely tell you they've never forgotten the riveting beauty of a Christmas tree bathed in natural candlelight and the serenity it spreads.
But ask the average shopper about Christmas candles and you'll get a puzzled look. They've either never heard of putting live candles on a Christmas tree, or if they have, they can't imagine doing it themselves.
Your Christmas Tree Live and Unplugged -- A Brilliant Idea
Christmas tree candles are on a comeback course. They've enjoyed a devoted niche following among a small band of traditionalists who grew up with them. They also have a following among expats from Germany, Denmark and the other Nordic countries who brought them to the new world and have never given them up. Fortunately, these stalwarts are being joined by a generation of new adapters, who are unplugging, going "natural," and starting to adorn their trees with vintage-style pendulum candle holders, Christmas tree candle clips and real Christmas candles.
Some people go bling-free and opt for live candlelight out of concern for the environment and because they want to simplify the holidays. Using real candles and candle holders is a way to save energy and free the holidays from the overpowering glitz and glam of the season.
Other new converts and trend scouts are inventing a whole new Christmas design vibe based on the elegance and versatility of candlepower. For them, using Christmas tree candles and candle holders is an aesthetics-driven proposition.
Whether your design scheme is urban cool, vintage, cottage, country, Scandinavian, modern, French-inspired, retro, eclectic, Victorian, shabby chic or steampunk, Christmas tree candles and candle holders are among the simplest and most flexible Christmas decorations you can choose. They're also much more laid back than LED lights or incandescents.
Live candles bring a touch of warmth and elegance no matter where you use them. Do-it-yourselfers and Christmas geeks love them because of their hackability. They're incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of design settings.
In addition to adorning your tree, the candles and candle holders make a brilliant addition to a tablescape, on a hanging candelabra wreath, as a design accent on the mantle, in garlands and in window decorations, as dozens of Pinterest design scouts are documenting on their boards.
But finding a product that has been nearly extinct for ninety years isn't easy. Christmas tree candles, candle holders and special pendulum holders are not a hardware store item. Virtually no small retailers stock them, and you won't find them at the mall or in big box stores.
Since there are no bricks-and-mortar retail sources, a careful internet search is the best way to turn up Christmas tree candles, candle clips and other kinds of candle holders. Try obvious key words like Christmas Tree Candles, Christmas Tree Candle Holders and Pendulum Christmas Tree Candle Holders for starters. If that doesn't do the trick, vary the key words a bit.
The best candle holders are made in Germany, so make sure you find a web shop that imports original merchandise from there. Try to find an online source with several models including clip-on Christmas tree candle holders, the classic model that you've probably seen at flea markets or antique shows.
For variety, also look for candle clip holders with various kinds of bases, as well as various kinds of vintage-look counter-balanced pendulum Christmas tree candle holders and holders for votive candles. Nearly all the candle holders these days also work with flameless candles and battery-operated candles. They can also be used on antique Christmas feather trees and vintage feather trees.
Here are some of the models that are still being made today you can choose from:
Christmas Tree Clip-On Candle Holder (or Candle Clip)
The classic clip-on candle holder is one of the most popular varieties. It clamps on to the branch and has a swivel mechanism so you can adjust it the base to make sure the candle stays upright. The clip-on Christmas tree candle holder is usually available in silver or gold. The picture shows several holders grouped together. Place them individually on the tree and space them evenly.
Back in the Day...
Since we're we're surveying various types of candle holders, check out this historical model. It was featured in an early patent drawing and shows a Christmas tree candle holder with a long clamp that can also be used on a flat surface. The patent for this model was awarded in 1920, around the time electric Christmas tree lights were starting to become popular.
Clip On Christmas Tree Candle Holder with Star Base
The star was a favorite Christmas design element and often showed up on Christmas tree candle holders. This model features an embossed seven-pointed star at the base of the candle holder. It also includes a spring mechanism to help the clamp grip the Christmas tree branch.
Clip On Christmas Tree Candle Holder for Tea Lights or Votive Candles
This model grips the tree branch like the other Christmas tree candle clips, but it is made for a short votive candle or tea light candle. The picture shows a group of eight, but they need to be put on the tree individually and spaced out. This votive candle clip is not common in the U.S. and Canada, but it is available on the web.
Hanging Pendulum Christmas Tree Candle Holder with Kugel (Ball) Weight
Back in the day, hanging Christmas tree candle holders were usually made with a thin wire and a coil at the top to hold the base of the candle. This model was used in the 19th century and predated clip-on candle holders, but it has been revived and is still being made in small quantities in Germany. Pendulum candle holders are usually available in silver or gold.
Hanging Pendulum Christmas Tree Candle Holder with Star Weight
The star has always been a part of Christmas decor and was frequently used as a counterbalance for pendulum Christmas tree candle holders. This picture features the hanging Christmas tree candle holder in gold, with a star weight.
Pendulum Christmas Tree Candle Holder with Pine Weight
The pine cone was another popular shape used as a counterweight for the hanging pendulum candle holders in the old days. This model has been revived and is being made in Germany today. It is usually available in silver and gold.
Pendulum Christmas Tree Candle Holder with Pine Cone Weight (Silver)
This photo shows the hanging Christmas tree candle holder with the pine cone weight in silver. Like the other models, it also includes a bobeche to catch wax drips.
Hanging Christmas Tree Candle Holder for Tealight or Votive Candle
The tealight version of the pendulum candle holder features a larger cup to hold the candle. It also has a stem and a Kugel (ball) weight. Votive candles and also be used. As with all the models, it's very important to position the holder well away from other tree ornaments and overhanging branches.
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Safety Comes First
Putting candles on your Christmas tree is an individual decision. Some people love the look, but don't light them. Others light the candles and enjoy the experience throughout the holidays. It's your choice. If you use candles instead of lights, there's an added bonus: Gnarled light strings and burned-out bulbs will be a thing of the past.
If you light your candles, you have to use common sense to avoid setting the tree ablaze. A Christmas tree fire is no joke.
Safety starts with the tree itself. Buy one that that is not dry and be sure to keep it watered during the holidays. Space the candles properly. It's important to keep them away from other decorations and overhanging branches.
Make sure the candle is vertical, avoid drafts so they don't burn too fast, and stay close by. Some people also keep an extinguisher or bucket of water nearby. These cautions are also important if you will be using Christmas tree candles in a table arrangement, garland, on a wreath or on the mantle.
Realize that live candles are not a 24/7 decoration. Light them and experience their spine-tingling beauty periodically during the holidays at times when you want to chill and you know you can stay in the room and enjoy them.
You'll find that the sight of your Christmas tree bathed in natural candlelight will stop you in your tracks and make you slow down. For good reason: You have to focus on the tree. You can't leave the candles burning and run out to buy a quart of milk or tune in the ball game. Not that you'll be tempted -- you'll definitely want to stay and bask in the magic and beauty of the moment.
When the evening is over or it's time to move on to another activity, be absolutely sure to blow out the candles when you leave the room. At the end of the season, pack your candle holders away and celebrate because you'll be able to use them again year after year.
See the line-up of authentic German clip-on candle holders, elegant pendulum candle holders and European candles at Christmas Gifts from Germany. ChristmasGiftsFromGermany.Com.
For an inspiring look at how people slow down, decorate their trees with candles and use them in other Christmas design settings, hop over to Pinterest and take a look at Cool Yule. https://www.pinterest.com/coolyule/
Celebrate Slow Christmas on Twitter @ChristmasInGerm and on Facebook at Christmas Gifts from Germany.
Tom Conrad blogs about taste, design, travel, beer and food. You can find him on HuffPo, CNN.com and at TreasuresOfEuropeTours.com.