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Ever wonder where Christmas inventions like candy canes, Christmas lights and other holiday traditions originated, or how they have become so universally accepted? You may have also pondered why we drape tinsel over trees or why we have Christmas trees in the first place. From toys to decorations, the origins of your favorite holiday things might surprise you. In this article, we take a closer look at the real history of some of the most loved Christmas inventions in history.

The tragic inspiration of Christmas lights

Putting lights on Christmas trees became popular in the 17th century. At that time, the lights placed on trees were small candles that were attached to branches using wax or pins. Because the Christmas lights were candles, the lights were only used on Christmas Eve to prevent fire outbreaks. In 1882, Edward Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, developed the first Christmas light. He hand-wired 80 blue, white and red lights, and wrapped them around a rotating evergreen.

Department stores first made use of large Christmas light displays in the early 1900s to attract customers to their stores. However, not until Albert Sadacca, whose family later produced illuminated birds, did someone start selling strings of multi-colored lights. This new invention was in response to a tragic fire in 1917 that was caused by lit candles. The NOMA Electric Company, started by Sadacca, went on to become the biggest Christmas light company in the world until 1965.

The delicious origins of the candy cane

Several legends claim to depict the origin of candy canes. However, the first ever mention of the holiday treat dates back to 1670 when a choirmaster bent sticks of sugar and shaped them to look like shepherds’ canes for children.

In the 1920s, a savvy businessman named Bob McCormack started making candy canes as Christmas treats for his community in Albany, Georgia.

Every cane needed to be pulled, twisted, cut and bent by hand for decades. Then, in the 1950s, McCormack’s brother-in-law invented a machine that automated the candy cane making process for Bob’s Candies Inc., and soon the family would develop packaging that helped them ship the fragile canes all over the globe. These innovations would ultimately turn Bobs Candies Inc. into the largest candy cane producer in the world.

The sticky history of adhesive tape

While working at 3M in 1923, Richard Drew developed one of the most useful and practical items ever invented: adhesive tape.

According to the Inventor of the Week archives, the very first prototype had adhesive on the sides, but not in the middle.

As legend would have it, the tape fell off a car during a trial run and one frustrated worker told Drew to “take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!” That was how the world’s first brand of transparent tape – a clever combination of oil, rubber and resins – came to be known as Scotch Tape.

The historical beginnings of wrapping paper

Ever since the invention of paper around 105 A.D., people have been wrapping it around gifts. However, the modern practice of gift wrapping did not become popular until the 1920s. Before then, experts believe that most presents were wrapped using plain brown paper or tissue paper. As printing technology improved, wrapping papers became better colored, decorated and folded in large quantities.

Hy-Sill Manufacturing Inc. holds the title as the first U.S. giftwrap company, but in 1917, Hallmark entered the market and started selling wrapping papers large scale for $0.10 a sheet.

The illuminating origin of Rudolph

The original lineup of reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh never actually included Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer. As a matter of fact, Rudolph is nowhere to be found in traditional Christmas folklore. In actuality, Robert May, a Montgomery Ward copywriter, invented Rudolph in 1939 when writing a Christmas story for a department store.

Drawing on his experience as a child, and some elements from the Ugly Duckling fable, he invented the popular misfit character with a glowing red nose who eventually proves himself to his peers.

Do you know of any other inventions that have helped transform Christmas into the tradition we know today? Please share them with us in the comments.

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