Denver's claim to Christmas lighting fame goes all the way back to 1907, when storekeepers along the 16th Street Mall replaced the streetlights with red and green bulbs. The rest, as they say, is history.

The year was 1907, and storekeepers along the 16th Street Mall decided to liven things up around the holidays by replacing the streetlights with red and green bulbs.

The future of outdoor Christmas lighting got even brighter when, in 1914, a local Denver electrician named D.D. Sturgeon decided to dip some lightbulbs in red and green paint and string them on the evergreen tree outside his 10-year-old son's window—to boost the boy's holiday spirits since he was too sick to join the family for the Christmas festivities downstairs. But not only did the electrician's son love it, people loved it, and thanks to the coverage of a Denver Post reporter, they came from miles around (by horse-drawn carriage, of course!) to see what everyone believed to be the first illuminated outdoor Christmas tree. 

the first house to have christmas lights

The house on W. 34th Avenue, where it all began, courtesy of Google Street View

The following year, Sturgeon's neighbors caught on and decorated their trees, too. In 1918, the Denver Post reporter who originally publicized the story put together an outdoor-lighting contest, which inspired the participation of hundreds of Denver residents, as well as bulb manufacturers, to explore the creation of more affordable indoor/outdoor lighting options.

In 1919, another electrician in the city expanded the lighting to the Denver Civic Center, then took it a step further with an outdoor Christmas tree in front of the Capitol building the year after that. 

christmas lighting

Denver in 1920, courtesy of

Across the country, news of Denver's lit-up exteriors was spreading like wildfire, inspiring thousands of Americans to take their holiday spirit outside and illuminate their own neighborhoods with colorful lights. What had started as a simple effort to cheer up a bedridden boy in Colorado had become a beloved holiday trend nationwide. 

christmas lighting

Denver in 1920, courtesy of

In 1945, NBC even aired a documentary honoring Sturgeon and the city of Denver and giving them credit for the outdoor Christmas lighting tradition. By this time, Denver had already been called "The Christmas Capital of the World," and Sturgeon was commonly referred to as "Father of Yule Lighting." But the funny thing? Sturgeon's house, where it all began, was located on W. 34th Avenue—oh-so-poetically close to being a real-life "Miracle on 34th Street."

christmas lighting

Today, Coloradans still love Christmas lights adorning our homes and yards, and another decades-old tradition is in play: long-time residents don't take down their exterior lighting until the National Western Stock Show is over, in late January. The reason?

"In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the Colorado State Museum Christmas exhibits stayed up until at least a few days after the stock show ended," former Denver resident Loretta Slota Marshall posted on History Colorado's Facebook page. "Extending the Christmas season was a special treat for the families who came from the outlying part of the state. The tradition started with leaving the Civic Center and public Christmas lighting and downtown stores decorations up so that the rural visitors would enjoy their visit more. With the city still in Christmas array, it only seemed natural for families to leave their trees and lights up, too."

So there you have it! Not only did outdoor Christmas lighting originate in Denver, but if you see lights up on houses and city buildings through the end of January, now you'll know why. They're not lazy—They're just paying homage to a long-time cow town tradition. Gosh, I love Denver.