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Easy holiday decor tips from the team that decorates Disneyland for the holidays

After decorating Disneyland for the holidays overnight, Cathy Carson says she keeps her Christmas home decor simple.
/ Source: TODAY

California's Disneyland Resort is always "the happiest place on earth," but during the holidays, it may also be the merriest.

In a transformation that appears to happen overnight, Disneyland's resort enhancement team turns the theme parks and hotels that make up the resort into a holiday wonderland — from the 60-foot-tall Christmas tree at Disneyland to the beautiful 1920's-style vintage decorations at Disney California Adventure.

As soon as the parks close on Halloween night, Disneyland's resort enhancement team goes to work decorating for the holiday season.Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

But Cathy Carson, who works on Disneyland's resort enhancement team, and Phil Rahn, manager of the team, say that although the transformation to winter wonderland seems instantaneous, Disneyland employees spend the entire year working on the resort's holiday decor.

"The minute we take the decor down in January, we bring it back to our warehouse and we put it away and we start immediately planning the next year," Carson told TODAY Home. "We'll either rehab each piece or, if it looks a little tired, we'll make it new — we make a third of the decor new every year."

Sleeping Beauty's Castle gets a special winter overhaul as a part of the resort's holiday decorating.Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

Among the new additions this season are the lighting and decor on the Main Street, U.S.A. Christmas tree at Disneyland, a holiday decoration that is close to Carson's heart.

"I've been working on that tree since 2003, so I have a special feeling for it," said Carson. "I like to take ownership of it and I enjoy it a lot."

A Disneyland Resort cast member works to transition the parks from Halloween to holiday decor overnight.Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

The iconic tree is decorated in sections on a back lot of Disneyland, then hauled by crane through the park and assembled on Main Street, U.S.A. in a single night immediately after the resort takes down its Halloween decorations. The pair says the majority of decorations in the parks go up after the park closes on Halloween, with other elements being added over the next few days. By Thanksgiving, every decoration has long been in place.

Disneyland cast members put the finishing touches on the 50-foot tree located at Disney California Adventure.Joshua Sudock / Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

"When Halloween night comes around, while everyone's out there trick-or-treating, we're standing by waiting for the park to close," said Rahn. "As soon as that last person leaves the gate, we're in there furiously starting to add to our decor... a whole army of people comes in and takes down Halloween and starts to add the holiday elements."

Carson says the key to the rapid transition is the methodical, organized way the resort enhancement team, horticultural team and others involved with decorating work together.

"As soon as we hit the street, everybody knows what they'r doing and everybody jumps in and gets it done," said Carson.

Disneyland Resort horticulture manager Luis Gomez prepares a poinsettia garden at Disneyland.Joshua Sudock / Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

But some additions to the holiday decor can be added to Disneyland before Halloween. Rahn says it's not uncommon for his team to "sneak things in" before the big holiday decorating push to lessen the work load later on.

"Maybe we'll put some lights in trees but not plug them in," said Rahn. "And a lot of times, we're already starting to talk about plans for the next year while we're putting up the current year's decorations."

Rahn says it takes the entire year to plan the decor. Once one year's decorations are on display, the resort enhancement team begins pitching ideas for the following year, ordering the supplies necessary to execute approved decorations and building new additions. All in time to do it over again in at the end of October.

Disneyland's It's A Small World attraction, lit brightly for the holidays.Paul Hiffmeyer / Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort

So how do these decor geniuses get their own homes ready for the holiday season?

"I usually do mine really quick," said Carson, "Because after decorating Disneyland, I'm kind of over it."

For those who need to get their homes holiday ready fast, Carson offers these decorating tips.

1. Go for greenery

"I like to go to the local tree lot, and they'll give you branches that they've cut off the trees," said Carson.

Carson says placing fresh cut greenery in the center of a table and adding berries, ornaments or candles can be a simple-but-beautiful decor idea that adds holiday fragrance to your home. (Carson also recommends using LED battery-operated candles for safety.)

2. Get creative with glassware

One of Carson's favorite simple holiday decorations is various sizes of apothecary jars filled with colorful Christmas candy. Tie bows around the jars for added festiveness.

3. Borrow from nature

Carson says she loves hunting for pine cones and greenery with her grandkids in her own backyard.

"Put it in a bowl and that makes a great centerpiece that adds fragrance to your home," said Carson.

4. Add some swag

Adding berries, pine cones or small ornaments to inexpensive store-bought garland "adds something nice to the room," according to Carson, who suggests draping your newly decorated garland over a mirror in your home.

5. Make a DIY centerpiece

Carson says by combining an 8-inch wreath, battery-operated fairy lights and a flameless candle, even the biggest procrastinator can add some holiday flair to their dining room table.

6. Repurpose leftover ribbon

Give scraps of ribbon from your gift-wrapping new life by tying bows around existing candles in your home, suggests Carson.