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What are LED Christmas Lights?

By Bryan Pedersen
Updated May 17, 2024
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LED Christmas lights are small, colored, light emitting diodes that are linked together by a wire and used to decorate trees, window frames, the roofline of houses, and other items as a way to celebrate the holiday season. Unlike traditional miniature incandescent bulbs, they are illuminated by the movement of electrons in a semi-conductor material rather than heat causing an internal filament to glow. LED lights are very efficient, so they don't produce much heat or waste electricity.


The bulbs in LED Christmas lights are typically available in many different shapes, from the traditional cylinders with pointed tips, to balls and cubes, to special designs that look like pine cones or snowflakes. They also produce deep, pure colors rather than the typical yellow-tinted light from traditional incandescent bulbs. LEDs can be made to mimic the "warm" yellow tones of those lights, however, or the sharper, blue-based "cool" colors.

Most Christmas lights come linked together with several strands of wire, which can be green, white, or another color. In many cases, the wire will have a plug on each end — one that can be inserted into an electrical outlet, and one connector that accepts a plug from another strand so that they can be linked together. Rope lights are also available, which have the lights and wires inside of a plastic tube.

Lights are available with one- or two-piece construction, although the two-piece is more commonly available in stores. In one-piece sets, the individual lights are not removable. Because the entire bulb assembly is sealed together, it's less likely that moisture will get into the strand, damaging it; it also prevents loose connections from turning the lights dark. Individual lights cannot be replaced if they burn out.


A string of LED Christmas lights uses about 1/10th of the electrical current of mini incandescent lights. This means that not only are they less expensive to use, more strands can be connected together without overloading the circuit. LEDs are also much cooler than traditional lights because they don't need the heat to glow. Holiday lights are linked to about 150 home fires each year, and although not all are linked to the heat generated by such lights, LEDs are thought to be safer.

Most LED lights are made from plastic instead of glass, so they are less likely to break. The color is also generated in the diode itself, rather than in the bulb, although the bulbs are often tinted to the same as the light; if the external plastic fades, it won't change the color produced. The bulbs last longer because there is no internal filament to burn out.


Despite their reputation for being long-lasting, LED Christmas lights can and do burn out or become less bright. In most cases, as long as a bulb is still attached to the strand, the rest of the lights will continue to work, however. Lights made with two-piece construction can also have a problem with loose bulbs; if the connection between the bulb and the socket is not tight, part or all of the strand may fail. It can be very difficult to find the loose bulb when this happens.

Unlike incandescent bulbs, LEDs can glow or flicker when switched off. Most electrical devices receive a constant trickle of electricity when plugged into a power source, which can sometimes be enough to make the lights turn on a little even when set to off.

LED lights can also be more expensive than traditional incandescents. Although the price is likely to drop over time, it can be difficult for a consumer to justify the upfront expense of new lights, especially if older sets still work. This higher price is usually offset by the electricity savings over time, as well as their longer life.


Caring for LED Christmas lights is usually very simple. The string of lights can simply be rolled up and stored after the holiday is over. Because the bulbs are durable, the strand will usually work during the next holiday season. In addition, the relative thickness of the wires used for these lights make them less likely to get tangled in storage.


LEDs have been around since the 1960s, but didn't become popular as Christmas lights until the beginning of the 21st century. Older types originally came in only red, which prevented them from becoming very popular. Encasing a red LED in colored glass does not produce a light the same color as the glass; rather, it is a mixture of the two colors, severely limiting the color options. As the technology improved, however, a wider range of colors and shapes became available.

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Discussion Comments
By anon982865 — On Dec 24, 2014

Answers! Avoid cheap store brands like Walmart, Home Depot, Target, and also avoid the GEs and Phillips.

Best brands are Sylvania, Sienna and Bethlehem Lights Enchanted Forest and Santa's Best. Sienna Lights In Motion few blew out but now none are burning out. Enchanted Forest Pink and Sylvania Orange and Bethlehem survived three years and last year's Arctic vortex.

By anon935454 — On Feb 25, 2014

I have LED Christmas lights. We've had them for a few years. This year as we packed them up, we noticed four bulbs missing. The LED lights are still there but no bulbs! They must have gotten lost in the snow. I can't find replacement globes. Any ideas/suggestions?

By anon357093 — On Dec 01, 2013

We have had color LED lights on our tree for three years now. I really miss the brightness of the incandescent bulbs though. My whole tree is pretty dark and even the ornaments don't look as nice because there's just not enough light. So even though we dropped some serious cash on the LEDs, I'm going to switch back to incandescent bulbs next year for sure. The LEDs are simply not bright enough, even when using 500 lights on a single tree. My old mini incandescent bulbs lit up the room. Now my tree is the darkest corner of the house.

By anon307650 — On Dec 06, 2012

Do the LED lights last longer if you just keep them on and don't turn them off every night?

By anon236429 — On Dec 22, 2011

Having used LED light strings for a few years, I'm seeing pretty short life spans. By the flicker, it's obvious that they are running on one half of the AC cycle. I'll bet that the LEDs are seeing a high reverse leakage voltage that is blowing them out. I'm tempted to throw together a rectifier-filter to feed the lights with DC.

By anon233292 — On Dec 05, 2011

Re post 34: I meant to say the timers leak electricity even when shut off and it doesn't take much electricity to light an LED hence the strands glow a little. Our LED lights only turn completely off when unplugged.

By anon233074 — On Dec 04, 2011

I wrote post 32. An electrical engineer told my husband that all strands leak a little bit of electricity even when shut off. And it doesn't take much to light an LED, hence the faint glow.

By anon232854 — On Dec 02, 2011

So many questions, not nearly enough answers. I'm still wondering about the faint glow of lights on some of my outdoor strands that are strung together. I've never seen lights that only faintly glow. Usually, they either work or they don't.

I have several strands all working fine, then there are about three strands that have the glow. We've had some drizzle today, so I'm not sure if that is the problem, although these are indoor/outdoor use.

I've never used LEDs for Christmas lights before, so I don't know what the faint glow means. Help please!

By anon232461 — On Nov 30, 2011

We are having the same problem as described in Post 20 above by anon130084.

We have three strands of LED lights strung together. They were plugged into a timer. Two of the strands turned off at the time we set on the timer. But the strand in the middle keeps a faint glow through the night. It will only turn off completely when unplugged. We tried another timer same thing. Then we plugged into a power strip. When we switched it off, the same strand in the middle kept a faint glow. It turns off completely only when unplugged. Does anyone know why? Do we need to change the fuse in the strand?

By anon141450 — On Jan 10, 2011

I have to say, the LEDs are really ugly! That glare, especially from the blue ones, and the weird metallic look resemble something from a funhouse, not Christmas! I know there are top-quality bulbs out there for LED sets, but they cost $1.49 per bulb! I hope the incandescents will stay. They are warm, they glow, and they are pleasant to the eye.

By anon138584 — On Jan 01, 2011

Three out of 8 strings of fairly-spendy outdoor LED lights have died, after only a month running on a timer. These do not seem to be a good investment.

By anon138355 — On Dec 31, 2010

This is my second year buying outdoor c-9 led Christmas lights. The first year I purchased GE brand, they got water inside the cover and when it froze the light covers popped off. I returned them to Costco for a refund.

This year I bought holiday brand. The covers stayed on but they still got water in them and several strings stopped working. I will never buy outdoor led lights again. --TBOly

By anon134998 — On Dec 16, 2010

I have new twinkling led icecycle lights this year. one strand has blown it's fuse twice. There are no strands plugged into it that would add extra load to it. Any ideas?

By anon134731 — On Dec 15, 2010

After having found my strand of second season LED Christmas lights to be dead this year I am thoroughly disgusted. I was hoping the hype about them being long lasting was true but given that they're made in China I guess I was gullible. No more Chinese lights for me. From now on it's the old style larger bulb sized strands.

By anon134387 — On Dec 14, 2010

I installed a .75 kva transformer from 480 to 120 volt and a gfci on a 3 phase service to power outdoor christmas lighting. I have about 130 volts. The old style lights work on this outlet but the led lights don't. If I plug the led lights in an outlet in the garage they come on. Can you tell me what might be wrong and how to fix it?

By anon134267 — On Dec 14, 2010

I've gotten several sets of LED lights that I use indoors. By the time I take them down, after 4-5 weeks of use, I find several lights on every strand that are burned out. The claim of long lifetime (which makes sense, given LEDs) is just not true for Christmas lights.

By anon133459 — On Dec 10, 2010

I finally got my LED icicles out today and put them up. I bought them last year and have five strings running together, for a total of approx 45 feet.

They were stored after New Years and now, after putting them up (thinking I wouldn't have to check the "reliable" LEDs), I've found that string #4 has half the string unlit.

I understand that the person answering these questions feels it must be environmental and not a problem with the line itself, but, considering they were used about four to six weeks last winter, stored and then brought out again, I'm more inclined to believe the problem is the line/light.

I'm more than a bit peeved, especially since I'll likely have to go out and spend money on another set (after what I considered an investment) and I'll have to try to get the darn thing replaced, even knowing that for the next week, at least, the temps are supposed to stay below freezing.

While bright, the LEDs have a much smaller circle of light than the older bulbs. My old lights looked like icicles while these look like a random, misty pouf of bluish light. I lost a bit of the effect of the icicles just so I wouldn't have to replace the lines or bulbs and - voila - Titanic! Don't say it won't happen because it will!

By anon130371 — On Nov 28, 2010

If you have any movable or musical ornaments, they do not work on LED lights - these lights apparently aren't strong enough. I'm taking mine back to the store. My movable ornaments are important to my family.

By anon130084 — On Nov 27, 2010

OK here is a goofy one. I have my LED christmas lights in the yard all plugged into a timer. When the timer goes off at night, there will a few bulbs throughout the yard that stay on. Not all on the same string. There does not seem to be any pattern to the ones that are on staying on. I noticed it last night and changed to a different timer today and again the same thing tonight.

Most of the lights are completely off, but like i said, a few bulbs here and there stay on. They are not burning bright but strong enough to see that they are still on. What is causing this? Is it another bad timer?

By bryamann — On Nov 23, 2010

How does the luxor lumens of LED compare to incandescent lights? I usually use 3,000 small lights on my Christmas tree. I am thinking of converting to LED exclusively and trying to determine how many I need for the same "brightness" and to avoid blinding myself.

By anon126310 — On Nov 12, 2010

Five out of six of my LED Christmas lights are half dead after being used for one year and carefully stored! These things cost money compared to the cheap incandescents so I am not happy. It appears from what I can find that there is no fix.

One socket could have rusted and half of the light will die. I did not purchase these to be disposable. Bad product.

By anon96757 — On Jul 16, 2010

I also have a string, less than a year old. The last half won’t come on. One bulb is bad, the others test OK. Replacement bulbs that came with the string, don’t light in that socket. The bad bulb doesn’t fit in other sockets, which makes me think it's special. The higher cost does not make them cost effective.

By anon56224 — On Dec 13, 2009

How do you stop LED's from blinking?

By radzik — On Dec 08, 2009

I just tried plugging in some regular lights to a couple strings of LED lights and they stopped working. Is there anything I can do to fix them?

By anon55197 — On Dec 05, 2009

i have been using the old school c7 lights for the last few years. i can't stand them because you can only run two strands in a series, but my wife loves them because she says they can be seen better than the little lights.

I have been wanting to switch to led lights, but was wondering how many strings you can run in a series without blowing a fuse. i need a total of 175-200 feet. Can this be done on one outlet?

By anon54349 — On Nov 29, 2009

I have two strings of LED lights that are each 15 feet long. I need exactly 22 feet of lights, so can I cut and splice these two sets together to make exactly 22 feet?

By anon48485 — On Oct 13, 2009

Here are some answers :) 9. No, the bulbs are not interchangeable - on most LED sets, the LED's are permanently mounted in their housings and you can't replace them. 8. No, the old style sets pull so many more amps that you'd probably fry your LED set. 7. The connections in rope lights can be broken if you try to wrap them in too small of a circle. Try splicing a new section in and covering the splice with heat shrink. The sets might also be damaged due to exposure to salt water. 4. You might have experienced a power surge or you've had damage to your electrical wiring. Remember, LEDs are solid state devices - plug them into a surge protectors. Also, they could have been the victim of environmental degradation. The LED are really durable but the wiring is still susceptible to UV degradation. Like all manufactured devices, there is going to be a failure rate - if the lights failed within the first week, more than likely it was a manufacturing issue - otherwise more than likely environmental. That's why on all kinds of Christmas lighting a pretty standard warranty is 90 days. 2. LED sets are wired in series. Other answer depends on the sets. :)

By anon22914 — On Dec 12, 2008

Are the tiny LED Christmas light bulbs interchangeable with the small lights on the old type strings?

By sandjar — On Dec 02, 2008

Can I plug in a strand of older regular outdoor lights to the new LED stand of lights?

By anon19909 — On Oct 22, 2008

I have various LED rope lights and often enough they stop working at various lengths and on different strings. This is being used for holiday deco on a navy ship and tends to be an issue. The lights are either strung up using wire cable or rope to keep it from shifting, zip-tied and such. why do they stop working at various spots ???

By nashbaar — On Mar 18, 2008

There are two main types of LED's stringers in the market today. There are Half Wave and Full Wave rectified, at the easiest level the Full wave do not have any flicker to them where as some of the 1/2 wave do. That is not to say that 1/2 wave is bad, I sell a ton of 1/2 wave product!

To answer the other questions on here:

Regarding them not working: when you purchase LED's you are making an investment, choose a brand that has a warranty on them (most big box stores do not)

For any Christmas decor/lights I would not store them outside, the suns UV rays will eat at the cords.

By anon6522 — On Jan 01, 2008

can I store my christmas tree with led lights outside?

By jakester — On Dec 24, 2007

This is a question about LED christmas lights. I have 3 strings and am having problems with all of them. I thought they were long lasting. One string, half stopped working, another icicle string, again 1/2 stop working and now another string is completely dead. Does anyone know why?

By anon5799 — On Dec 06, 2007

The above two questions were just what I wanted to know. Please answer them!

By mikerauh — On Dec 01, 2007

1. Are the LEDs wired in series or in parallel?

2. Does the string of lights run directly on 110V AC line voltage, or is there a step-down to low-voltage DC?

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