How LED Lights Saved Christmas

By Cam Mather

I love Christmas. What a great time of the year. November and December tend to be gray, dark and dreary months around here but at least we have Christmas to look forward to! When we first moved to this off- grid house twelve years ago there were no LED Christmas lights, and so all we had were the old-fashioned incandescent ones that are huge energy suckers. This is the worst time of the year for power production for us because of the short cloudy days. Back then we used our Xmas lights very sparingly. We only turned them on for a few hours a night and only when the whole family was in the living room to enjoy them. Then this insanely great LED technology came along and our string of 140 LED lights only uses 2 Watts! In the words of George Frederic Handel… Hallelujah! LEDs have saved Christmas at Sunflower Farm!

Now our house is ablaze in Christmas lights … they are outside on the porch, on the tree, in the front hall way, over the kitchen counter, around the back door… it’s lit up like the Las Vegas strip, all solar-powered of course.

Some people believe Jesus was not actually born in December but that the celebration of his birth was moved to the winter solstice since that’s when pagans were celebrating anyway. As someone who powers their home with the sun (and wind) call me a pagan because I really celebrate the solstice! The days are now getting longer. By January we’ll be having those brilliant cold, clear sunny days when the solar panels just crank out the juice.

Christmas can make you do irrational things. One year, decades ago, I saw a TV commercial for the Time-Life Treasury of Christmas album. Who buys anything from the TV? Well, turns out I did. It’s one of the best purchases that I’ve ever made as we almost wore those vinyl albums out with how often we played them. I was lucky enough to find the treasury on CDs at Value Village for a few dollars, so I was able to retire my albums.

I can’t be the only person who loves Christmas music when you see how many radio stations have switched to playing Christmas music 24 hours a day for the month leading up to Christmas. But when you listen to these stations they’re really stretching it. Come on, how many Hilary Duff and Back Street Boys Christmas songs can a listener be expected to endure?

I love the Time-Life Treasury of Christmas CD because it has all of the Christmas songs done by people from a long time ago. Andy Williams, Burl Ives, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland. It just seems to harken back to a simpler time. A better time. A time when Christmas didn’t seem to be so much about “stuff.” It was more about just getting together and enjoying the company of others. No kid could turn his or her nose up at presents, but it didn’t seem to be the orgy of over consumption it’s become. The celebration didn’t begin until December and so it really was a special “time” of the year. Retailers keep pushing back the start of the season, and now lots of stores have Christmas displays up before Halloween. It isn’t special anymore. Now it lasts two months, or almost 20% of the year and it’s been corrupted. I guess when 70% of the U.S. economy is based on people buying “stuff,” it’s not surprising.

When I was a kid I did my Christmas shopping on Princess Street in downtown Kingston, outside, in the snow and the cold. I usually did it in the days leading up to Christmas. Now two weeks before December 25th the media is full of suggestions for “last minute” gift ideas. What do they mean “last minute?” There’s two weeks left! The best time to buy Christmas presents is the afternoon of December 24th. Now that’s last minute!

At this time of year I marvel at the miracle that is the fresh produce section of grocery stores today. When I was a kid we always got a huge Navel orange in the bottom of our stockings. You can tell that it was a rare treat because we didn’t mind it taking up valuable stocking space! I don’t think we got much tropical fruit in the winter, at least not fresh stuff. Now the stores are full of amazing fruit, all year long.

Those old songs seem to speak to a better time, a time when families were less disjointed, when there was a stronger sense of community. I love the way the meanings of words can change over time.  It’s amazing how many older Christmas songs have the word “gay” in them, when gay just meant happy. “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the Yuletide gay.” “Don we know our gay apparel, fa la la la la la lah.”

And yes, I’m a hypocrite. Times change. The world moves forward. Technology allows me to live in my little piece of paradise with solar panels and inverters and satellite internet. And LED Christmas lights make my house bright and festive. LED Christmas lights make me happy and gay! Happy Solstice from Sunflower Farm!

One Response to “How LED Lights Saved Christmas”

  • Daryl:

    Yep. LED’s rock. It’s my understanding that red, green and yellow LED’s have been with us for some time, but for some reason white was difficult to manufacture at first. Not sure when, but I remember when I first saw a white LED at Radio Shack. It was a single diode, and it went for around 5 dollars. I bought it just because I thought it was so cool, and lit up a scale model with it that I had built. I was totally unaware at the time that I would one day light my house with much more affordable LED’s.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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