Is it too early to talk about Christmas lights?

Probably, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Yeah I know it’s August still, but after last Christmas we decided to toss our old artificial tree because it was looking worse for wear after years of having cats chew on its limbs, pinecones, and fake berries and it wasn’t a particularly realistic looking tree to begin with. We had bought it back in 2008 after finding it on sale at the local Home Depot and it was starting to fall apart. So we figured we’d wait until the summer and see if we couldn’t pick up a new one during an off-season sale. My hope was to find a pre-lit LED tree with, if at all possible, twinkle light capabilities.

It occurred to me last week that summer is rapidly disappearing and we still hadn’t gotten around to finding a replacement tree so I started looking online and came across a couple of manufacturers who sell directly to customers and who had some pretty amazing looking trees. Or at least decent looking in the photos. This prompted me to propose a trip to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, MI to the wife so we could look at a few trees in person, which is what we did this past Saturday.

It was a bust as a tree-finding excursion. Not that they didn’t have any — they had quite a few — but not only did they not list who the manufacturers of the trees were, but none of them quite fit the criteria I had in mind. The pre-lit trees were evenly divided between traditional mini-lights and LED mini-lights and I hate mini-lights. I grew up with C7 bulbs on the tree and when I made the move to pure LED lights a couple of years ago most of the strings I bought had C7 or C9 style covers on them. We found one LED tree that had a combination of mini-light and C7-ish style bulbs on it that we thought looked pretty good, but it was also flocked (fake snow) which we thought would be a bad idea for two reasons. First, once you put it in storage chances are the snow will get dust on it and it’s probably impossible to clean it off. Secondly, if we thought the cats had a field day with the old tree with its fake berries and pinecones we could only imagine what they’d do with a flocked tree. It also didn’t help that the all of the pre-lit trees we saw were in the $500 and up range, which put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm.

With the slow realization that I was probably going to have to go with a bare tree and put lights on it I decided to see what the latest offerings in LED lights were as I’ve only ever found one string of multi-colored LED lights that blinked and it was a shorter string I put around one of our bedroom windows. Note I said blinked, not twinkled. With my old C7 light strings I would take a string of static lights and replace every third or so bulb with a twinkle bulb that randomly flashes. Since the move to LED the best I could do was to mix a string of multi-colored LEDs with a string of white LEDs that had the chaser function which I ran up the middle of the tree. The resultant effect made the tree look like a weird UFO about to lift off. Surely by now I’d be able to find all sorts of LED strings that had blinking lights and — dare I hope — maybe even a random twinkle function.

No such luck. At least not at Bronner’s. They had a decent selection of LED strings by some company I’ve never heard of before out of China, but none of them offered so much as a chaser or non-random blinking function among them. Well, that’s not entirely true. They did have a couple of strings that blinked, but they were naked LED bulbs with no covers on them similar to the one string I already owned and without a cover to diffuse the light you may as well be stringing laser pointers on your tree. We had a static string of naked LEDs around the window next to our apartment’s front door and when you came up from the basement there was always two LEDs pointed directly at the stairs that ended up momentarily blinding you in the same way as staring into the heart of a green or red sun. There were also a couple color-wave changing strings that I consider more appropriate for outdoor use than on a tree.

That’s when I noticed them. Bags full of single-color replacement C7 and C9 style bulbs that looked like they were made of out plastic instead of glass. The printing on the bag said they were LED lights, but they had a standard light bulb socket connector on them as though they were intended to go in old-fashioned C7 and C9 strings. On another table were boxes of the same sorts of lights, but offered in multi-color sets of 25 bulbs (5 bulbs of each color) and with plastic covers similar to the LED strings I’d bought previously. I asked an associate if they were really intended to go into a standard C7 string and she said yes!

These screw right into your standard C7 or C9 light strings.

These screw right into your standard C7 or C9 light strings.

Someone had managed to squeeze all the electronics needed for the power conversion for an LED light into the plastic bulb. More importantly, they had replacement bulbs that blinked on and off. It wasn’t random like the twinkle bulbs of old, but it was at least something. They had sets that blinked between red and green or blue and green or red, green, and blue. They also had falling icicle lights that fit C7 strings. I was overjoyed! Perhaps I had reached the goal of my quest since making the switch to LED Christmas lights! I could take my old C7 strings and replace the bulbs with static LEDs with every third or fourth socket having a twinkle LED in it, just like in times past!

There’s just one snag in this otherwise wonderful plan: These fuckers are expensive. A box of 25 LED replacement bulbs — static or twinkle — costs $42. Ouch. The falling icicle bulbs were $13. Each. When you consider that a standard string of 25 C7 multi-colored LED lights runs around $12 at Bronner’s, it makes my cunning plan an overly expensive route to go. I’d need enough lights for at least three strings if I end up with another 7.5 foot tree. The extra cost makes sense when you consider that the replacement bulbs have to have the electronics in each and every bulb whereas a standard LED string only has to have them once at the start of the string. That said, it’s too expensive to justify in the face of much less expensive strings.

Still, the fact that such bulbs exist is pretty fucking cool. Or at least cool enough to a Christmas light geek like myself that I felt the need to blog about it. In time I’m sure the cost will come down, but chances are someone will introduce an LED string sometime soon that does exactly what I want. If they haven’t already. It’s not like I’ve done an exhaustive search on the Internet yet. I may yet find a tree that fits all my criteria and that I might even be able to afford. A fella can dream, can’t he?

On a kinda-related side note: At least one of my neighbors never took their Christmas lights out of the sliding glass door where they hung them last season. To their credit they stopped turning them on every night sometime around March, but if you happen to glance at their apartment you’ll clearly see the strings still crisscrossing the glass waiting for their chance to glow once more. Seeing that a lot of folks seem to think I leave my lights up way longer than I should, I find this very gratifying.

3 comments

  1. I got some LED bulbs from Christmas Lights, Etc that twinkle in a random pattern a lot like traditional Christmas lights I’ve seen. :)

  2. I bought some c7 led’s that have plastic covers that screw in over the led bulbs. I have looked high & low for replacement covers. cant find them anywhere! UGH if you loose them I guess you junk the whole string. UGH! :(

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