Types of Christmas Lights

Sally Painter
Christmas mini lights

The holiday season is illuminated by Christmas lights that come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The bulb type, energy source, and design are all factors to consider before making your purchase. Armed with buying information, you're sure to twinkle, shine, and glow into the New Year.

Common Christmas Bulb Types

Both incandescent and LED (light emitting diode) bulbs are used in Christmas lights. They each have pros and cons.

Incandescent Bulbs

Incandescent bulbs are much brighter and cheaper than LED bulbs. In addition, there are more bulbs per light strand, which is why they have a more intense light glow.

icicle lights
Icicle lights
  • The Home Depot sells incandescent Christmas with clear, white, and colored bulbs.
  • Bronner's Christmas Wonderland carries a 100-bulb multi-colored strand with lights spaced just under three inches apart. Strands are over 24 feet long and will twinkle randomly.

Do keep in mind, however, that incandescent bulbs can grow warm and, in some instances, even hot. This means the bulbs must be replaced more often and the threat of fire is greater.

LED Bulbs

LED lights can use up to 75 percent less energy. They reduce the risk of fire since they don't emit heat and are an especially good choice for live Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands and shrubbery. While you can purchase these in typical mini-lights styles, LED lights are also available in a wide variety of styles and novelty designs.

color changing icicles
Color changing icicle lights
  • Christmas Central's half-frosted bulbs have a glittery snowflake design over the entire bulb. Each strand has 10 multi-colored bulbs with 10 inches between each bulb. Each socket has a clip for easy attachment.
  • 1000Bulbs.com carries mini wide-angle lights. They have a patented wide-angle design on a 24-foot string of 70 bulbs spaced four inches apart.
  • Christmas Central also carries color-changing icicle lights. The set of 12 icicle lights comes with a remote control.

While they may be energy-saving and safer, LEDs may not produce the traditional "glow" provided by incandescent bulbs and may cost more to buy up-front.

Alternatives to Holiday Electric Lights

Not all lights need to be plugged into an outlet.

Battery Operated Lights

Battery operated lights allows you to place lights any place you wish regardless of whether there's an outlet nearby. Illuminate fences, front yard tree, shrubbery, door wreath, roofline, garage doors, and windows with ease. They are also great for mantel decorations, centerpieces, staircases, and window swags.

  • Target has a 10-foot LED light string with timer has 30 cool white bulbs spaced four inches apart. It requires three AA batteries.
  • The Home Depot sells a 24-bulb white LED three-inch long icicle light strand. It requires three AA batteries.

Novelty Christmas Lights

The lights most commonly associated with Christmas are those used to decorate Christmas trees and to add some cheer to your rooftop or porch. However, you can find plenty of novelty lights, like retro bulbs with pointed ends or globe-shapes and bubble lights.


Pick up a novelty strand with retro styling or an unusual design.

  • Balsam Hill allows you to bring old-fashioned Christmas tree lighting home with retro bubble lights. The seven-foot long string comes with seven multi-colored bubble lights two inches wide and over three inches high. Each package comes with two strands.

  • Christmas Lights Etc. sells a retro styled strand with 25 cool white LED bulbs that stretches 17 feet. This strand exceeds ENERGY STAR qualifications and UL List standards.

Beyond Strands

Not all lights come on strands or strings.

  • Sears sells an Elf on the Shelf bubble night light that is perfect for creating a nostalgic glow for tiny tots. They are sold by the case of six and plug into a regular electrical outlet.

  • Birddog Distributing, Inc. sells a set of two fiber optic poinsettias that are solar-powered. The unusual changing lights are sure to catch everyone's eye as they pass by.

  • Novelty Lights, Inc. has multi-colored spheres with 50, 100, and 150 bulbs. Hang them from the ceiling at your holiday party or from tree branches outside.

Special Outdoor Lights

While many outdoor lights are electric outlet styles, battery operated, and solar powered meant for adding to porches, trees, and roofs, you can find several other special lights meant for outdoor use.

Lawn Ornament Lights

You may also find some great lawn ornaments, such as sleighs, gift packages, and figurines that are outlined with lights. For example, you'll find a PVC vine reindeer at Kmart. There are also all types of computerized animated light displays that you can use along with christmas music for your outdoor Christmas design.

Features Help Determine Quality

There are other features you should consider when selecting your Christmas lights. Some of these include:

  • Number of bulbs: The package will indicate the number of bulbs on a string of lights. A strand with 50 bulbs will put out less illumination and cover less area than a string of 200 lights.
  • Strand length: Most strings or ropes of lights will indicate the length. This is important because it tells you how much area you can plan to cover with your lights.
  • Plug style: If you only plan to use a single strand of lights, it may not matter what kind of plug your lights have. However, if you plan to attach several strings of lights together, look for the "end-to-end" style. These allow you to connect several strings of lights together one after another.
  • Solid or blinking: Many a holiday argument has started over this critical lighting issue. While some people like their Christmas lights to glow constantly, others prefer the blinking variety.
  • Unusual lights: Not a traditionalist? Try a fiber optic Christmas light decoration, a neon light ornament to hang in your window, or a length of rope lights to shine on your noel. Also, consider lit bead strings, twinkling spheres, and lighted Christmas garlands.
  • Strand construction: Many light strands are constructed with serial wiring. In these, if one bulb goes out, the whole string is dark. On others, a burned-out bulb will take a small section of the strand with it. However, the best quality Christmas light sets do not allow a defective bulb to affect any others on the string; in these, the only bulb that goes out is the bad one.

Buying Discounted Lights

There are many opportunities to find great deals on Christmas lights. Shop known discount outlets, such as Big Lots and Overstock, where the inventory changes often. Many reputable stores and websites have pre-season and after season sales that you can take advantage of; just make sure that the lights are UL standard to avoid any possible substandard products, as well as read any reviews left about the product by previous customers.

Types of Christmas Lights