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Outdoor Christmas light strands: An expert's tangled guide

By Rex Huppke, Tribune Content Agency on

Today I'd like to offer some expert advice on handling the most basic of Christmas decorations: the simple strand of outdoor holiday lights.

While modern technology has brought us all manner of yard-decorating wizardry, the colorful electric light strand remains the primary tool in the outdoor Christmas decorator's toolbox.

As a licensed and professional expert (self-declared) in exterior holiday decor, allow me to give you a bit of history.

It all began with a simple question: How can we create a long strand of colorful electric lights that will easily become inextricably tangled and will stop working if one light breaks?

According to the Library of Congress's Science Reference Services, it was Thomas Edison who first created a strand of electric lights, stringing them outside his laboratory around Christmas in 1880. (This was likely just a case of the lightbulb inventor showing off, prompting neighbors to sneer, "Merry Christmas, NERD!!")

In the early 1900s, General Electric started selling Christmas lights to the general public, soon presidents were lighting up national outdoor Christmas trees. And the nation has never looked back.

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That's the history of the most basic outdoor Christmas decoration.

Still, after all these years, few fully comprehend the best method of using strands of electric Christmas lights. Not to worry. The following steps will fill that void:

First, fetch last year's outdoor Christmas light strands from whichever corner of the garage or basement you stuffed them into after finally taking them down in March. They will appear to have congealed into a large spherical mass. Do not be intimidated.

Roll the large spherical mass of festive lights onto your front yard and maintain a spirit of confidence and good cheer.

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