It’s a fun game weirdos like me enjoy playing: before the lights hit the gutters, can you predict what this year’s Christmas decor technology innovation will be? I’ve correctly predicted new Christmas technology five years in a row, and here’s what I’ve learned.
Most houses put up the same lights every year, but you can usually spot a novel technology if you look carefully. The first year it’s on the market you’ll only see it on one or two houses. Then the following years it spreads to more and more houses, and until it gets replaced or becomes the new norm.
To predict next year’s new thing, you could go to the source (like this district in Shenzen that does only Christmas year round), or you could tour your neighborhood now and ponder these factors:
1) Small iterations on existing products
Innovation is slow and methodical. New decorations are always just one step away from last year’s, never more. This surprised me.
I’m not familiar with the specific economic forces keeping changes small, but I imagine it’s a combination of: ease of manufacture, less need to educate consumers, commodity price pressure, and you only need to be a single step ahead to beat others on the shelf.
2) Bring in ideas from outside of Christmas
One 2022 innovation I didn’t predict were giant inflatable snowmen.
In hindsight, these were likely inspired by Home Depot’s 12-foot-tall skeleton sensation of 2020:
Side note: so much of Christmas decor leaves zero room for end-user playfulness or creativity, so I take a lot of joy in Skelly's unexpected role as a Christmas muse. Please enjoy: Those giant skeletons are now holiday decorations, too
3) Newly possible (or newly cheap)
Some recent examples include LED bulbs, LED controls, fiber-optic cables, and compact, battery-powered projectors. If it emits light and it’s newly possible/cheap, it’ll definitely show up on a house next winter.
4) Step sideways, conceptually
You know those little devices that scatter red and green laser dots over your house? Why not make ones that project something else, like swooping Christmas images? Snowflakes, wreaths, etc.
One prediction for a future year: right now the images just swoop around in circles, at some point they’re going to figure out how to make a "falling snow" effect.
Case study: predicting string light innovations
My most accurate predictions have come from watching string lights improve over the years, and they’re a great example of the “newly possible” and “small iterations only” factors.
First, incandescent bulbs were replaced with fixed-hue LEDs. This first generation had only really awful hue choices, like dentist-office white, and literally hurt to look at because they are so bright.
The following year, we started to see string lights that could produce any hue! A big step! But zero thought was given to programming. Cycling haphazardly through the entire rainbow has more of a “smoke shop” vibe than “gentle winter night” vibe, yet people still bought these—probably the same people who bought the first iPhone.
Next, we saw strands with programs that control each bulb independently. You could now have the psychedelic rainbow flow through the strand, or randomly pulse each bulb a different color. Though technically and economically feasible to make visually appealing or seasonally appropriate programs, we will refrain! Remember: we only innovate one step per year.
We got there the following year! The first seasonally appropriate programming options appeared, generally limited to toggling the whole strand between all white and multicolored. Tasteful, but so much more is possible.
And last year we started seeing more interesting seasonal programming: all blue or all red with little white twinkles, more sophisticated holiday colors blinking patterns, candy cane motifs up a pole, etc.
As an exercise for the reader, what could the next iteration look like? My prediction is below!
My predictions for 2022
Prediction: faux neon lights in Christmas shapes
Inexpensive LED faux-neon lights are available on Amazon for $20 in tons of shapes. We could easily bring that concept into Christmas-land and make them in winter shapes.
They’re not widespread yet, but they’re out there! I’ve spotted these so far:
- reindeer mid jump (not pictured)
- mounted reindeer head
- "peace on earth"
- Minnie and Mickey Mouse in Santa hat (not pictured)
Prediction: lights that can do ALL holidays
If string lights can do arbitrary hues, why stop at Christmassy colors? Make a set of lights you put up in October and leave up until January.
For Halloween, you could have your whole house slowly & ominously pulse purple. For Thanksgiving, you could have it do various cozy autumnal colors. Then roll right into the Christmas color scheme of your choice.
No ladders needed, just push a button.
VERDICT: Tentative yes? I saw these in exactly one place this year. A neighbor covered a fence with lights for Halloween, and the same wall is now red with little white flashes. I'm going to keep this prediction on the docket for 2023.
So, what's next for 2023?
What Christmas technologies do you see on houses today? What iterations could come out next year? I’d love to hear your predictions.