Holidays can be hectic, but nothing beats the warmth and cheer of Christmas lights twinkling during some of the darkest, coldest nights of the winter. The practice of hanging Christmas lights and lighting trees dates back to the 17th century, when ambitious holiday celebrants used candles to light their trees—which they could only do for a few minutes at a time before extinguishing the flames to keep their trees, and houses, from burning down. In 1880, Thomas Edison strung his newly invented incandescent lights around his laboratory during the Christmas season, a successful marketing ploy that started a long tradition of electric holiday lighting.
If you’re new to the Christmas-lighting game, you can use this guide to help you through the process of designing and creating your first outdoor display.
Design Your Display
Christmas lighting styles tend to run to extremes. Some homeowners stick to a single strand of lights around their rooflines, while others create gaudy mega-displays that contain a mish-mash of character-driven themes and may well be visible from outer space. To find a happy medium, consider the following strategies:
- Play up your home’s architectural features: In addition to your rooflines, any columns and railings are great elements to highlight. Plan to use lights with white or light-colored cords to blend with trim.
- Light outdoor trees and shrubs: Small evergreen trees make natural focal points, but almost any type of shrub or tree can contribute significantly to your ability to dazzle the neighborhood. You can use net-style lights with green cording to cover shrubbery, and for tall trees, you can use a long pole with a hook on the end to string lights on high branches.
- Choose a theme for yard and garden art: Whether you want to add a village worth of decorations or just a few, the idea here is to elevate your decor by choosing a focus. You can opt to stage a life-sized nativity scene or an elaborate tableau featuring Santa, his reindeer, a handful of elves, and Frosty the Snowman, but not both. You may even want to consider choosing a single motif, such as candy canes, Santas, reindeer, or snowmen, and see how many different variations you can use to create fun vignettes.
Here are some great photos for more inspiration.
Gather Your Supplies
In addition to actual strings of lights and any yard art you plan to incorporate, you’ll need to have the following tools and supplies handy before you begin assembling your display:
- Measuring Tape
- Light-hanging Pole
- All-purpose Light Clips
- Extension Cords
- Light Timers
Before purchasing your lights, be sure to measure the areas you plan to decorate, so that you’ll know how many linear feet you need to cover. If you’re planning to decorate shrubbery or other large areas, consider adding net-style lighting to your list.
Hang Your Christmas Lights
Once you’ve developed your lighting scheme and amassed your supplies, choose a day when no major storms are in the weather forecast, have a cup of coffee or several, and get down to business.
- Test your lights: If you have a bum string of lights, the time to remedy the problem is before you daisy-chain several strings together and attach them to your house.
- Create strings of the appropriate lengths: Up to three strands of incandescent lights, or 25 strands of LED lights, can be linked together to form strings long enough to circle your house and/or large trees.
- Attach light clips every 18 to 24 inches: Light clips attach both to your light strings and to the railings, gutters, soffits, window trim, and just about any other surface, eliminating the need for screws or nails.
- Move groupings of lights and art to the zones where you’ll use them: Depending on the scope of your decorating plan, you may want to do a little pre-organizing of your materials, then work through various zones one at a time.
- Assemble decorations: Hang lights around the house, distribute nets of lights over shrubbery, and get any yard art into position.
- Plug lights into a timer: This will allow you to conserve electricity by pre-programming lights to turn on and off at designated intervals.
When you’re ready, call your family together, plug the lights in, and enjoy the first twinkly night of the season.