These days, the benefits of LEDs over incandescent bulbs are well known. LEDs consume far less electricity, which leads to lower operating costs and a smaller environmental footprint: they stay cool; they are more resilient, and they have a much longer lifespan.
The downside is: they look terrible.
While I’m sure there’s some great-looking, cutting-edge festive-season LED lights out there, the vast majority of them seem to produce produce either a dim, flat bluish light or a blindingly bright, flat white light. The old energy-wasting A Christmas Story–era multicoloured bulbs cast a warm, flattering glow. LEDs make your living room look like a morgue. Also, cheaper LED sets are actually strobing at all times, which understandably gives some people headaches. Happy Holidays, Mom: here’s a migraine for you!
A telling fact is that manufacturers have been striving for years to replicate the look of incandescent in an LED. According to the bafflingly detailed Wikipedia entry entitled “Christmas Lighting Technology,” LED makers have added yellow filters and re-jigged the engineering to try and match the look of the old bulbs.
You can still find the old-fashioned coloured incandescents at big box retailer (usually tossed behind a massive display of LEDs!), and usually for a lot cheaper than the LEDs. The really old bubble-style bulbs, alas, are now the domain of eBay.
Now, it’s true that those old incandescents would get really hot. One year, in an effort to be festive, I draped a string of them over the TV set and the bulbs melted into the plastic housing. And yes, incandescents are worse for the environment. But cutting down a tree and dragging it into your house isn’t exactly great for mother nature, either. I imagine most people’s homes nowadays are lit primarily with efficient compact fluorescent bulbs (which also once made your home look like a regional insurance office) and Christmas lights are just a seasonal accessory. Until LEDs can replicate the same warm, nostalgic luminescence, I say: Go incandescent.