It’s that time of year again, Christmas, a time where families gather to celebrate with gifts, giving and food. But what would Christmas be without all the traditions that accompany it.

Some of the most beloved stories and traditions that we associate with Christmas are patented, trademarked and copyrighted. One tradition people participate in every year before Christmas is decorating the tree. According to the fifth annual Christmas tree survey from the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA), this year seventy-seven percent of U.S. Households will display a Christmas tree in their homes. Of that seventy-seven percent, eighty-one percent of those trees will be artificial. Today there are so many different options of artificial trees to choose from it’s hard to decide which one to get; there are pre-lit trees, frosted trees, colored trees, the list goes on. One of the first artificial tree patents (Patent No. 255,902) invented by August Wengenroth from Troy, New York, has been traced back to 1882. The object of this invention is to furnish a portable imitation Christmas-tree which may be readily put up for use whenever required.1

Now that the tree is up, what would it be, real or fake, without Christmas lights? Before the light bulb was invented people wanted to recreate the wintertime sight of twinkling stars so they started using wax candles to light their Christmas trees. Although the trees looked lovely, this was an extreme fire hazard and many people lost their houses due to fires. Charles Kirchhof tried to alleviate the fire hazard with his invention of the Candle Holder (Patent No. 72,506) which was constructed for conveniently attaching candles, ornaments, or other objects to and maintaining above any oscillating support (as the branches of a tree) in their proper position. This invention was a step in the right direction but an open flame and a tree of any sorts is still not safe. Thankfully Thomas Edison had made many improvements in electricity and it’s not shocking to know he was also one of the creators of the first Christmas lights (Patent No. 223,898). He had some help with this though, his partner and VP of Edison Electric Light Company, Edward Hibberd Johnson, has been coined the “father of electric Christmas lights”. He took Edison’s light bulb, wired them on a strand and put them around the tree in his house, 80 red, white and blue bulbs in all and that sparked a desire for them all over, including president Grover Cleveland who wanted over a hundred bulbs strung on the tree in the White House.2

The tree is up and decorated; now it’s time to sit back and watch a classic Christmas movie or read a classic book. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a childhood favorites for many, it was written by Robert May in 1939 to help drive traffic to Montgomery Ward department stores. Once published Rudolph was an instant hit and the department store gave children over 5.2 million copies of the book from 1939-1946. In 1947 Robert May convinced Montgomery Ward to sign the copyright over to him and from there he created an entire new Rudolph “franchise” creating prints, cartoons, and eventually worked with his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, to make the hit song in 1949.3 Robert also helped in the first onscreen production of Rudolph. Most people think the TV special we see every year is the original film but the original was made by Fleischer Studios, which copyrighted the movie in 1948 for Montgomery Ward advertising.4

Another Christmas tradition for many people comes in the form of movies, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas Vacation and Christmas Story are just a few of the classics. Everyone can relate to Ralph from Christmas Story at some point and time with the terrible bunny pajamas his aunt gives him or the illusions of grandeur you had as a child when Christmas came around.  Some of the most memorable moments from that movie have also been trademarked. The infamous leg lamp (U.S. Registration No. 3,364,542) is protected by a federal trademark registration as is the leg lamp ornament (U.S. Registration No. 3,367,925), and a shirt with the iconic phrase “You’ll shoot your eye out” (U.S. Registration No. 3,742,748).

So stay away from icicles this year and have a very Merry Christmas.