- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We did the right thing.

We bought LED (light-emitting diode) Christmas tree lights, the ones that use up to 90 percent less energy than traditional Christmas tree lights.

But the right thing doesn’t feel - or look - quite right.

It’s cold and cheerless instead of warm and inviting.

Maybe it just takes some getting used to.

LED lights are being used all over town, from the National Zoo’s animal light displays (ZooLights, on view through Dec. 30) to the National Christmas Tree. These two landmark Christmas light displays started their energy-saving ways last year. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us, no?

On top of their environmental friendliness, LED lights also last longer and are safer - they stay at about room temperature, as opposed to incandescent lights, which get superhot and are responsible for many home fires during the holiday season.

While LED lights are increasingly popular for specialty uses, they haven’t yet caught on widely as a household illumination choice, according to Pepco, which is sponsoring the ZooLights display.

“As of 2008, LED lights are a ways off in making a big difference in residential energy use,” says Clay Anderson, spokesman for Pepco. “The public is still learning about the benefits of LED, and LEDs aren’t available everywhere.”

Our hardware store had them, though, so we went ahead and chose civic-mindedness and safety over family tradition. We also provided some timely economic stimulus by buying the pricey suckers: about $25 for a string of 100 clear minilights. They last longer and will pay for themselves in a few seasons, we’re told.

But - what is Christmas without family tradition?

Many of us fondly associate Christmases past with things that weren’t necessarily delicious (burnt ginger snaps at Grandma’s house), environmentally prudent (lighted - and moving - Santa-and-reindeer yard displays) or safe (live candles).

However, these not-so-delicious, not-so-green and not-so-safe childhood memories help saturate Christmas with such sentimentality that the mere thought of the Santa yard display or the burnt ginger snaps elicits rushes of nostalgia.

That brings us back to Christmas 2008 and the LED lights. Picture them strung on one of those oh-so-practical cypress-in-a-pot trees (no natural pine fragrance or pokey, shedding pine needles) instead of a traditional Christmas tree. Will these sterile-seeming creations induce the same kind of soul-warming nostalgia in our children a few decades from now as they think back on their early 21st-century Christmases?

Well - maybe.

After all, if we can be sentimental about the burnt ginger snaps, perhaps the next generation can be nostalgic about fragrance-free cypress-in-a-pot Christmas trees and antiseptic LED Christmas lights.

Because - speaking of light - the flame of nostalgia burns brighter and longer than most everything else.

Note: For those thinking of going the LED Christmas light route, colored lights might be warmer than the clear.

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