My new book, “Merry Christmas, America!,” is an eye-popping, cross-country adventure to meet the people who climb on their houses each year to prove that anything worth doing is worth doing over the top. These are the neighbors who electrify the holidays and go all out to make every Christmas the brightest, merriest, happiest Christmas ever.
I’ve been addicted to these illuminated, inflated, animated front yards since my teens, when I began trying to win my neighborhood’s decorating contest. The first year, though I didn’t win, I got my picture in the paper as “the kid who tried to wrap his house like a present.” Another year, in another failed attempt to win the “Best House” award and its congratulatory red-lettered sign, I made it look like Santa had fallen off our house into a giant leaf pile in our front yard. I still believe I was robbed! The Nickels, with their understated Charlestonian pineapple-candle-in-each-window routine, beat my Santa-legs-and-black-boots-sticking-out-of-a-leaf-pile-and-flailing-about-in-the-breeze. Perhaps if we had snow in South Carolina my concept would have been a little more compelling.
In fact, I’ve never won the “Best House” award. But that didn’t — or hasn’t — stopped me from trying. In my annual ho-ho-ho pursuits, I’ve learned a thing or two about holiday decorating that help make it quick, easy and fun. Here are a few ideas on how to wrap your Christmas in a package that won’t send you over the edge or over your credit limit:
Outdoor lighting like a pro
1. Make sure you have enough amps and extension cords to support your megawatt dreams.
2. If you’re buying new lights, “think green” and buy LED. They use up to 90% less energy and aren’t as temperamental since they don’t have filaments.
3. Give your lights extra bedazzle by adding garland. You can prevent sagging and gaps by either using the clips on some light sets to neatly tuck in garland or use color-coordinated pipe cleaners to affix garland to the light strands.
4. If you’re remodeling your house or building new, remember to add some outlets beneath your eaves and in your yard for special “holiday” lighting.
5. Whether inside or out, always hang lights with them plugged in. Besides giving you a real idea of how the finished extravaganza will look, this will save you countless hours searching for that one bulb that has gone kaplooey. When they fritz, you’ll know it instantly.
One, two, three, tree!
How to make the easiest tree for your yard! Supplies: tomato cage, one strand of lights, wire.
1. Take a tomato cage and turn it upside down. (Largest ring on the ground.)
2. Use a piece of floral wire (or garbage bag twist tie) to join the three stakes (now at top) into an apex.
3. Starting at the bottom, take one strand of Christmas lights and encircle the form all the way to the top. Messy and loose is fine.
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Tree! Place one or more in your yard to make an easy, gorgeously lit forest.
Nothing creates a memory like a homemade ornament, especially if it is a framing capsule for a favorite snapshot. Supplies: clear glass ornament, vellum, scissors, printer
1. Upload or scan in your favorite picture to your computer, sizing it to the diameter of the ornament.
2. Print on translucent vellum paper appropriate for your printer (inkjet or laser) and use scissors to cut the photo to size.
3. Carefully remove the wire cap, exposing the hole at the top of the ornament.
4. Curl the photo into a small straw shape and insert into the ornament, adjusting as necessary to make the photo hug the front of the ornament.
5. Reinsert the tension wire and cap. Hang it near a light and watch it glow.
A happy holiday table
A special table makes for a great party. Since the “day of” might prove too hectic, do this the day before your big affair. A few of my simple ideas:
Centerpiece. How about using your leftover Christmas balls in a clear vase? Or a collection of old bottles with sprigs of greenery and stems of flowers? Perhaps put your favorite candles on a tray and scatter the tray with your collection of buttons. Or fill a jar or vase halfway with cranberries, and add white roses and fill with water. Even easier, just fill your favorite bowl with red pears, cranberries, nuts and sprigs of pine.
Tablecloth. Get a fabric remnant from the fabric store or find an old tablecloth at a thrift store or garage sale and let your children finger-paint. Or help them paint your guests’ names at each place setting.
Napkin rings. Tie colorful ribbon or raffia around your cloth napkins, and then attach a pinecone or two with floral wire. (If you have the time, get out a can of gold spray paint and gild the cones. But do it atop newspaper outdoors — spray paint is not only messy, it is also fume-y.) Or, even easier, just tie a simple bow around your napkins with a piece of stunning ribbon.
The goodie bag. My parties are known for the fun surprise at each place setting. Filled with things varying from gag gifts (whoopee cushions) to the practical (soaps, candles or ornaments), these can get a party started or help it continue when guests open them at home. I always have on hand Chinese takeout containers so that guests can take a few of their favorite leftovers home. Sometimes, if I’m extra-ambitious, I make little packs of cookies and chocolates. Nothing says, “I’m thinking of you” like a to-go container of yum.
Start a tradition
Here are five ideas from “Merry Christmas, America!” to help you add a memorable spark to your Christmas.
1. Take a Christmas Eve drive to look at lights and decorations.
2. Give a yearly-themed ornament marked with the date. (My mother still sends me a train ornament each year! And I have enough for a tree completely in trains. Yes, I’m that old.)
3. Bake cookies and leave Santa a plate of them along with a handwritten note (secretly save these treasures and give to your child as a grown-up).
4. Have each family member give or make something for someone in need.
5. Take a yearly photo of you and yours wearing Santa hats or reindeer ears.
For more holiday ho-ho-ho, grab a copy of the book “Merry Christmas, America!” And for year-round fun and easy ideas, visit Bruce at www.garagesaleamerica.com.
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