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Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, getting in the spirit of Christmas might mean early gift shopping and decorating for the holiday. Though that latter task often conjures visions of burned-out bulbs, tangled wires, and colors that just don’t pop, there’s a wide selection of high-quality Christmas lights that won’t leave you disappointed. Some sets even have fun (and often helpful) features like timers and programmable settings.
Between vintage-style lights, mini incandescents, multicolor LEDs with different modes to match your mood, novelty lights, and the traditional string lights, there’s a lot to consider before the holiday season starts. Whether you’re looking for models that will last you years or upgrading your mundane light display, we put several Christmas lights to the test to help you find the best picks that will suit any household.
The Best Christmas Lights
What to Consider
Traditional “mini lights” are made up of tiny incandescent bulbs that press into a plastic socket. Incandescents use a filament that is heated which brings the light to life, and they’re often available in a variety of color options. While these lights will give you that old-fashioned Christmas look, there are often issues that you can run into over time, like flickering bulbs, sections that burn out, and overheating.
Besides longevity and quality concerns, incandescent lights also cost significantly more to run than LED lights, and require more energy to stay powered. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LEDs use up to 90 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
You can cut down your electric bill during the holiday months by investing in LEDs instead, but hang onto the incandescents if you still want that timeless appearance and don’t plan to run them 24/7.
LEDs can be wired in two different ways: series or parallel. Series circuits work by sending the current from the power source, through each light, then back to the power source—so if one burns out, all the lights after that will burn out, too.
Each light on a parallel circuit is powered by its own circuit, so if a light burns out, it has no effect on the rest of the lights—and they’re replaceable. Both methods are acceptable, but we recommend parallel circuits so you don’t find yourself with a half-lit tree.
LEDs often get grief around the holidays because of the color, since they don’t give off the same cozy amber glow as incandescents. Instead, you’ll likely find them in cool-toned options that have more of a pale, bluish hue.
If you like the traditional incandescents that emulate candlelight, it’s tough (though not impossible) to find an LED substitute. Our best overall pick from Brizled combines both warm white and multicolor LEDs for the best lighting variety.
Some Christmas lights include extras that give you more color options and functions. There are sets that are dimmable, sometimes with several degrees of brightness, and those with multiple lighting modes so you can opt for slow fade one day and twinkling the next. There are also sets made specifically for covering bushes and shrubs, along with solar- and battery-powered options if you want to hang them out of easy range of an outlet.
If you plan on decorating all over your house or property, look for options with remotes and timers, which usually include end-to-end connection so you can control more than one set at once.
Keep in mind: Since LEDs use less power, you can connect multiple strings together to create displays that would impress even Clark Griswold, without overloading your circuit. Incandescents can’t handle the same amount of connections, and often require more than just one wall socket. You should always refer to the manufacturer’s product information to determine exactly how many lights can be strung together.
How We Selected
We dug into our own research and tried out several lighting versions to make our selections, plus we considered reviews from expert sources including Good Housekeeping. We surveyed the market and used our own hands-on experience with Christmas lights—including the ones we rely on each year—to determine the best options based on color variety, indoor, and outdoor use. We’ve settled on the following list with a range of types, styles, and functionality to help you create an eye-catching holiday decor experience.
LED Christmas Lights
This is the ideal set of Christmas lights for anyone who likes to change up their lighting display throughout the holiday season. The 66-foot string has 200 lights and 11 modes that make the most of its multicolor and warm white LEDs. Plus the set is dimmable, with four brightness levels.
The warm white is a pleasant hue—not too yellow—and the colored LEDs are on the pastel side, as advertised. There’s a built-in timer that you can set to change up the mode at certain intervals. And you can connect up to three sets of these lights end-to-end.
While the Brizleds are perfectly fine or outdoor use (they have an IP44 rating, meaning they’re water-resistant), the plug and transformer/control box need to be protected from water. Also, the wire is silver, so it’ll be a little obvious hanging from your home’s eaves in daylight.
Icicle Christmas Lights
This massive, 33-foot strand of 400 cascading color LEDs offers a ton of coverage, and will work well over a garage or around the exterior of your house.
In testing, we found the colors to be vibrant and reminiscent of traditional incandescent mini lights. There are eight lighting modes to choose from, like slow fade and twinkle, that you can cycle through using a button on the plug (there’s no remote).
One downside is that due to the different lengths of the string lights, they get tangled pretty easily. But a reliable storage method, like a lighting storage wheel can help you keep everything organized during the holiday off-season.
Clear Christmas Lights
If part of your holiday decorating plan includes framing windows and doorways, Christmas lights strung on a white wire are your best bet for blending in with white molding and panes.
This set of 100 clear white incandescent lights is dimmable, with end-to-end connection for up to five sets. There are two flasher bulbs included that allow you to set your strands to blinking mode, and the set is available in a two-pack if you have more ground to cover.
2-in-1 Icicle Christmas Lights
These icicle lights offer both warm and cool white options, and come with a remote for easily switching up your display. There are 360 LEDs on the 29.5-foot strand with 60 icicle drops, along with four brightness levels, nine lighting modes, and a memory function that automatically switches lights on to the previous mode.
Other highlights include a built-in timer and end-to-end connection for up to three strands, plus an IP44 waterproof rating.
Clear Mini Christmas Lights
A no-frills set of Christmas lights makes for a simple setup and can even be used in different areas of the house, like a bedroom or living room for a warm and cozy ambiance.
Our senior editor, Rachel Klein, appreciates that these lights are a reliable option that can be repurposed throughout the year. “They’re pretty basic in terms of features (there’s a blinking mode, and that’s it) but if you love a traditional look—and need a white wire, which isn’t always easy to find—they’re a fantastic choice,” she says. “I usually leave a set up on my living room windows through spring, and maybe only need to replace a bulb or two.”
They can be hung up indoors and outdoors, and you can connect up to five sets of lights without safety concerns.
Meteor Shower Christmas Lights
Nothing says Christmas like fresh-fallen snow. But if you live in an area where that kind of weather only happens once or twice a year, you can still bring the idea to life with these outdoor lights. They look great hanging from tree branches or along the bottom edge of a roof, and while they’re designed for outdoor use, there is no reason you can’t use them inside.
The lights are incredibly lightweight, with strips of LEDs encased in plastic tubing. We tested a strand that had eight individual cascading lights, and it was just the right amount of lighting without being overwhelming. The light strips are double-sided, so they can be viewed from every direction.
You can string up to four sets together, but keep in mind that the plug is not waterproof, so it will need to be plugged into a protected receptacle.
Incandescent Bulb Christmas Lights
These Christmas lights from Minetome come in several different color options, like warm-white and blue, with each strand featuring 100 incandescent lights. We tested the clear warm white bulbs, which gave the familiar amber glow that’s reminiscent of traditional Christmas vibes.
If you’re looking for a straightforward style of lighting, this style is a solid bet. They have a constant lighting mode, and a waterproof rating of IP44 so you can use them indoors and outdoors.
Plus, each bulb is individually illuminated, so if one dies, the entire strand won’t give out. You can also connect up to five strands of lights.
Ceramic Christmas Lights
These vintage-style bulbs create a classic holiday look and are designed for indoor/outdoor use. The light strand is 25 feet long with 25 screw-in incandescent glass bulbs in five colors. The sockets have clips molded into them to help hang the lights and orient them the way you want.
We haven’t used this style of light in a while, and we forgot how much heat they generate. Also, turning them on and off repeatedly can cause the bulbs to loosen. The set comes with two spare bulbs, which you’ll likely use, as the bulbs can break easily on hard surfaces.
Mini Christmas Lights
Sylvania’s incandescent multicolor mini lights are just like the Christmas lights you grew up with. This box contains two 150-bulb sets, and you can connect up to three sets end-to-end.
We used the lights in both steady-on and blinking modes without issue. As with Sylvania’s clear mini lights above, over time, sections of lights may go out until you wiggle the right bulb.
Net Christmas Lights
If you’ve ever experienced frustration (or exhaustion) running strands of Christmas lights around bushes or tree trunks, you can save yourself the hassle this holiday season with mesh net lights. They’re specifically designed for shrubs, hedges, and fences, and this set is available in warm white, cool white, and the multicolor set that’s shown, along with several other options.
It features 300 LEDs and eight lighting modes, which you can cycle through using the button on the adaptor (there’s no remote). The set is also waterproof, rated IP44, and offers end-to-end connection for two sets.
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