Skip to content

Christmas Lights Blaze the Message of the Holiday Joy

Main Image
Item 1 of 28

Story by Lee Rennick
Photos by Lee Rennick and Craig Tidwell

Driving around town looking at Christmas lights with the radio playing strains of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and other carols and songs celebrating the season, has become a tradition for many families during the holidays. It is a tradition that goes back generations, or at least as far back as 1880 when Thomas Edison provided the world with the first external display of lights on the buildings in his laboratory compound in West Orange, New Jersey. 

According to, “Edward Johnson, who was an inventor under the supervision of Thomas Edison, created the first string of Christmas lights a couple of years later. The string of lights was made out of 80 small electric light bulbs. By 1890, strings of lights were mass-produced and department stores began [using] them in Christmas displays in their stores. Public displays of Christmas lights in retail stores and government buildings became more popular in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century and gave way to outdoor displays on homes a few decades later when the electric lights became more affordable.”

While external displays of lights didn’t really take off until the 1920s, the concept began in 17th century Germany. It all started with small candles being placed on Christmas trees, and Christians would place candles in the windows of their homes to let other Christians know they could come in and worship with them. 

The decoration of Christmas trees tradition began in Germany in the 15th century, as part of the celebration of the Feast of Adam and Eve on December 24. It was meant to represent the Garden of Eden, according to

The Growing Brilliance of Christmas Lights

Small beginnings have, over the centuries, given way to Clark Griswold-like ostentation, with the Gay family of Hudson Valley, New York, holding the Guinness Book World Record for the most lights on a residential property by topping out at almost 700,000, says Although, Jennings Osborne of Little Rock, Arkansas, beat that three-fold in 1993. He used more than three million lights on his home-compound that year. An on-going battle with neighbors went to the highest court in the land over his Christmas display. A battle he lost. The display was so bright, those landing at the city’s airport could see it from miles away when they flew into the city. 
“Thousands flocked nightly to Osborne's home on already-busy Cantrell Road, snarling traffic and angering neighbors who eventually sued,” reported “The state's highest court declared the display a nuisance and ordered Osborne to take the lights down. Osborne asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that doing so would diminish his religious right to celebrate Christmas as he wished. Justices rejected his appeal, and the state Supreme Court ruling stuck. “Never fear, the lights didn’t go to waste, they were acquired by Disney World and Graceland.

Home Light Tour Tradition Continues in Rutherford County

For as long as lights have blazed on the roofs, trees and shrubs of homes in Rutherford County, The Daily News Journal has published a list of some of the best displays through their annual Holiday Light Contest. Crabtree Homes produced a map that could be downloaded to a smart phone in 2022 listing some of the best displays in Murfreesboro and Smyrna. From Bell Buckle Wartrace Road in Christiana to Beverly Randolph Road in Walter Hill and from Neutrino Drive to the west to Richland Richardson Road to the east, they listed about 30 houses to see. And, Facebook offers Christmas Lights in Middle Tennessee where people in the community can list homes that they feel are especially bright and creative.

Those who prefer relaxing and having someone else do the driving while celebrations take place in the back seat can rent a limousine. A number of limousine services in Middle Tennessee offer Christmas Light tours during the holiday season. Some even provide egg nog and Christmas cookies for their passengers. Most of the tours are available beginning the day after Thanksgiving and ending on December 23. 

Do It Yourself or Hire a Professional

Decorating a home for the holidays is fun, festive and adds a dash of excitement, but getting up on a ladder or crawling around on a roof is just not something many people want to do. That is why there are companies that will hang all those external lights for you. 

Koby Younce and Austin Moncivaez of Deck the Halls Christmas Lights are relatively new on the lighting scene, but they jumped in with both feet in 2022. They install and take down lights, pack them up into storage bins at the end of the season, and provide a timer in their packages.
“The first year is going to be more expensive, because the client buys the lights and will own them,” explained Moncivaez. “Typically doing the front of a house will run about $1,500 to $1,800. We have done houses that cost from $900 to $22,000. It just depends on the size of the house and how much of it a client wants covered in lights.”

Like Younce and Moncivaez, Caleb Tidwell of True Light Christmas Lights does all he can to make the process easy for his clients. He has been giving residents of Rutherford County an alternative to climbing about on their roofs for a number of years. He has a process. Once a lighting plan and budget are set, all the client needs to do is set out the box of lights the day before they are planned to go up, and put the box back out the day they are scheduled to come down. 

“It is a very simple process,” said Tidwell. “We just ask our customers to take photos of the front of their home. Some do the sides. Some do the back. And, then we are able to use those photos to map out what the house is going to look when it is decorated. Once we have an outline, we can start discussing prices based on what is in the budget and what is not…We use commercial grade LED lights, so they are made to last.”

Some companies rent the lights to their customers every year, but neither Younce and Moncivaez nor Tidwell do that. It saves them storage space and customers money, plus it allows them to tailor the lights to the home. 

Both companies are seeing a desire for a much more traditional look this year. While lights are available in red, green and blue, most people are sticking with the basics.

“Warm white lights are much more popular,” explained Moncivaez. “Last year about 70% of the homes we did were white lights and 30% were something else. This year it is about 90% warm white.”

Greens and Yard Decor

Lots of lighting companies only do lighting, and some only do roof lighting. Tidwell will do yard lighting, but of the more than 100 houses that he puts up lights for every year, only about six ask him to do the yard lighting and decoration. Moncivaez has had more customers this year asking to have lights put on bushes at the front of homes, which he does. His company will also put up wreaths in windows, but they also do not do inflatables or yard art.

“A lot of people want to do the ground work themselves,” said Tidwell. “We haven’t really gotten into that because we are so busy with the rooflines. Filling the greatest need is doing the roof work, so that is where we spend our time.”

Lights are not the only part of what Tidwell calls ground work, there are also the florals and greens that are festooned around doors, window, posts and mail boxes. This work is done by local florists, like the folks at Murfreesboro Flower Shop. 

For more than 35 years, Murfreesboro Flower Shop has been decorating the homes and grounds for local residents. They start the week before Thanksgiving and complete the more than 100 homes they decorate by the end of the week after Thanksgiving. 

“This year we are seeing a return to traditional red and white decorations,” said David Lynn, owner of Murfreesboro Flower Shop. “And, our customers want the inside and outside decor to match…We use real evergreens outside because they can last six to eight weeks, depending on the weather. The cooler and damper the weather, the longer they last.”

From elegant to kitschy, the external décor on houses in Rutherford County have something to offer to everyone who loves the spirit of the season that external home decorating has to offer. 

More Stories

  • Latest Issue 5 24

    Read More
  • Editor's Letter

    Welcome to the May issue, bursting with the vibrant energy of spring and a celebration of our incredible community! As the days get longer and the world seems to bloom anew, so too does the calendar of social events that bring us together. Read More
  • 32nd Annual Secret Garden Party to be held Friday, June 7th

    The Discovery Center at Murfree Spring recently announced the 32nd Annual Secret Garden Party. Hosted at the home of Kathy and Bud Horsley in Murfreesboro on Friday, June 7th,from 6:30 PM to 10:00 PM, all proceeds support the Discovery Center’s mission to provide essential adventures for every child’s journey through interactive programming and exhibits. Read More
  • Main Street Murfreesboro Celebrates National Historic Preservation Month

    Main Street Murfreesboro is celebrating National Historic Preservation Month in May by hosting two “Community Scanning Day” events. Preserving historical photographs is agreat way to ensure that the rich history of Murfreesboro is documented and accessible for future generations. Read More