Are Christmas lights in series or parallel?

by | May 13, 2020

Short answer

Christmas lights are wired in both series and parallel configurations depending on their style and application.

Slightly longer short answer

Series Wiring

Traditional incandescent and LED Christmas tree mini lights wired on a 2 or 3-harness are wired in series. For reference, you can find them in categories like these:

Series wired light strings cannot be cut and if one bulb is removed the rest of the string will go out.

Parallel Wiring

Traditional C7 and C9 cords are generally manufactured with heavy duty wire and are wired in parallel. Parallel wired lights can be cut and terminated to fit and if one bulb is unscrewed and removed, the rest will stay lit. (Bulbs that have threaded bases are a clue you are working with lights that are wired in parallel.)

These are cords found in categories like this:

Here are a couple of circuit diagrams to explain the way the bulbs in each kind of string are tied together.

Are Christmas lights in series or parallel?

Here is what real strings look like next to each other.

Are Christmas lights in series or parallel?

Long Answer for The Folks Who Want More Information

What does the way Christmas lights are wired mean to me?

Light wired in series


  • all the bulbs are wired in a single complete circuit with constant current
  • If a bulb is pulled out of its socket, the other lights on the string will go out (in most cases)
  • If a bulb “burns out” but is still intact in its socket with a small wire at the base undamaged then the rest of the lights will remain lit. Translation: if one bulb goes out, the rest stay lit, if a bulb is removed the rest of the light will go out until the bulb is replaced with a suitable replacement
  • the string cannot be shortened or lengthened so extra lights must be rolled and tucked away
  • sockets can’t be skipped but bulbs can be hidden with electrical tape or black paint

Troubleshooting steps if a light wired in series goes out:

  1. Check the fuse, if the fuse is blown you may have exceeded the maximum number of sets that can be run in series. Replace the fuse and reduce the number of lights on one arm of your project. Utilizing extra extension cords and splitters are go to’s for this issue.
  2. Check to make sure the bulbs are all properly installed in the part of the light string that is out. Some bulbs can be half out of a socket, this breaks the circuit. Gently reinstall any loose or unseated bulbs.
  3. Check the wiring harness for damage, if the wires are damaged, harvest a few bulbs to act as replacements in other identical sets and discard the light string, it has served its purpose and should be replaced.
  4. During the Season, replace burned-out bulbs as soon as they go out since the same amount of current will be running through all the bulbs. In other words, the current for 100 bulbs will be running through 98 if two have burned out so there will be more current running through them. This higher-current state burns the bulbs out faster and if the dead bulbs are not replaced the rest will start a cascade of failure.

Lights wired in parallel


  • All the bulbs are wired at constant voltage
  • If a bulb is removed, the circuit isn’t broken
  • LED and incandescent bulbs can be installed in the same circuit if that is the desired look
  • the wire can be cut and properly terminated to fit a specific length
  • sockets can be skipped and wrapped with a couple turns of electrical tape

Troubleshooting steps if a light wired in parallel goes out:

  1. Check the fuse and replace it if it is blow. Reduce the number of bulbs or length of light string before plugging into an outlet if the fuse has been blown. If you make adjustments and the fuse blows again, then there may be a break in the wiring. If you have questions about how much current your light string can take, touch base with an electrician. He or she can confirm that the wattage of your bulbs does not exceed the rated current for the cord. Also confirm that your cord length (of a 10-amp 18 AWG wire) is not longer than 250 feet for 18 AWG wire. Twenty-two gauge cords must not be connected end-to-end in a quantity greater than outlined in its specifications.
  2. Check the wiring harness for damage, squirrels and attic heat during storage can take a toll. If a section is damaged, repair the string by splicing in a repair using gilbert plugs or have an electrician make that repair for you.
  3. Visually examine the insulation of the wiring, if it is uniformly degraded and the cord has seen better days, pull the bulbs and replace with a new cord

This article was heavily edited and re-released on May 13, 2020

Recent Posts

Sharing Tables and Meeting Neighbors

Sharing Tables and Meeting Neighbors

We to -  - As the weather warms up or will warm up in the Northern states soon, our minds turn to clearing out the clutter that seems to build up no matter how hard we try to stay simplified. As an alternative to a traditional yard sale or carting everything to a...

read more

1 Comment

  1. Joshua Buchman

    When a bulb burns out, the same voltage acts on the bulbs that are left. But with the bulb burned out (and current now running through a low resistance shunt instead of a high resistance filament) the total resistance of the strand is less and MORE current runs through the remaining bulbs. That’s why they are more likely to burn out if you don’t replace the burnt out bulb. Hope this helps! Cheers, Josh



  1. Can I run Incandescent and LED light strings together (in series with one another? – Christmas Light Source - […] And the more lights that are strung together, the more current they “pull” or require. (For more about Christmas…
  2. Can You Shorten a String of Christmas Lights? – Christmas Light Source - […] For a full explanation of series and parallel wiring, look at the post:  Are Christmas lights wired in series…
  3. If a bulb burns out will the rest of the lights go out? – Christmas Light Source - […] Keep in mind, that if a mini light bulb is half or fully removed from its socket or if…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Blog Posts

What does the IP65 rating stand for?

What does the IP65 rating stand for?

The Answer: Whether or not you've heard of the actual rating, IP ratings are becoming more attractive to consumers since they are applied to cell phones. Everyone wants to know what will happen to their phones if they were accidentally dropped in water. Either them or...

read more
Get This Look: A Symphony in Red, White, and Orange

Get This Look: A Symphony in Red, White, and Orange

We have been working with Marc for over 10 years. We love hearing from him yearly and enjoy seeing his emails with attachments. Marc started decorating with LED string lights and has expanded his display over the years. Relationships like this are a large part of what...

read more
Comparing the Colors in Bubblegum Light Strings

Comparing the Colors in Bubblegum Light Strings

We love these "bubble gum" light strings. Also known as G12 LED (infinitely less descriptive), we love these lights because their lenses are as beautiful lit as they are unlit. These are three of our favorite colors. Classic green and blue flanking teal, the newcomer...

read more
FAQ: What do I use to outline my roof?

FAQ: What do I use to outline my roof?

What do I use to outline my roof?During Christmas, a few basic materials are used to outline rooflines with lights. The list includes C7 or C9 Christmas cords, bulbs, commercial clips, and gilbert plugs (both end and inline). You'll also need wire snips and...

read more