Holiday Decoration Ideas: A Guide

An introduction to decorating for the holidays in each season. Tips on improving the process, tricks and handy decor crafts.

With a few basic supplies, a little foresight and your own imagination, you'll soon find that outdoor holiday decorating isn't just for Christmas anymore. Whether your little slice of heaven is a tiny apartment deck, a fenced-in duplex patio or acres of rolling lawn and woods, you can enjoy each holiday -- and share the joy with family and neighbors -- with some simple, easy and inexpensive open-air creativity.

And by enlisting the helping hands of younger family members and local neighborhood youngsters, you'll share ownership of each welcome holiday season while building a friends-and-family tradition to last a lifetime. But before you put hammer to nail or peat moss to plant-pot, here are a few tips to keep in mind to guarantee the most enjoyable shared experience for everyone you involve:

1. Start small.

Nothing invites discouragement more than a big project gone awry. Don't let frustration spoil your fun. Start with a small project -- something you enjoy doing or you've always wanted to tackle. If your heart envisions a full-yard, Valentine's Day Candyland tableau, consider starting out with just the glitter-glazed gingerbread house or a yard-sprinkling of oversized, foil-wrapped candy kisses. And it's a good idea to plunge into any new project in anticipation of a holiday or event of which you're particularly fond. From St. Patrick's Day to the Summer Equinox, there's always something to celebrate.

2. Plan ahead.

Lack of planning is sure to slow you down and show up in the end product. So take a few minutes to think about your project. Where will you put it? How will you electrify/illuminate/empower it? Make a list of what you'll need, how much you can spare and where you can find it. (If you're not already a haunter of local garage sales, you won't want to bypass this rich source of great, inexpensive finds this year.) Step-by-step your ideas, and take a guess at about how long each step will take. Make sure you pencil in at least a few days of sit-back-and-admire-it time before the Big Day arrives.

3. Get started.

It may seem as though the commercial run-up to each holiday gets longer each year, but you'll find that time is precious when you're working on a deadline. Know when to stop planning and get started. Be sure to have everything you think you'll need on hand, and let yourself fall into a constructive rhythm as you work through the process.

4. Be open to change

Like true love, alas, the creative process never runs smooth. Let go of the House Beautiful place-for-everything mental fix and give in to the axiom about beauty and the beholder's eye -- especially if you've involved youngsters in your project. Find a place in your world for scarlet shamrocks and blue-green Valentines.

5. Keep notes.

You may think you'll remember what you did and how you did it, but why take the chance? Keep track of your time, any changes you made in the process and note: What worked? What didn't? What shortcuts did you find? Who was best at what task or craft? Help the younger helpers find a sense of ownership in the project. And be sure to take lots of pictures along the way. Try these easy holiday idea-starters to spice up your outdoor decor. Adapt them to your own surroundings and family's lifestyle. Grow them up and make them your own.

St. Valentine's Day Luminarias

An adaptation of traditional Christmas sand-light displays: during the Christmas season, pick up several dozen plain red luminary bags. During January, cut out heart shapes on the fronts and backs of half the bags; on the other half, use a short knitting needle to punch out outlines of hearts and flowers on alternating sides. Fill the bags half-full with sand, place a tea candle in the center of each one, and line them up along your walkway, alternating bag designs.

You can also design the luminaria display to encircle a favorite tree, outline your garden, light the way up your garden stairs or give a glow to your porch deck, wherever your yard could use a little light and warmth on the cold, dark February nights.

Wearing of the Green Sprouting Pots

Here's a chance to put your green thumb to work and get your hands in the dirt long before most planting seasons get under way. Children love this project. Start with as many terra cotta pots, planters and drain saucers as you can gather. (This is one time when those garage sale discards can really come in handy.) For a really stunning effect in early spring, use one or two gigantic terra cotta pots to anchor a corner of your yard.

After you've given the pots a good scrubbing, let them air-dry while you and your helpers mix up a gooey batch of mud: two parts peat moss to one part topsoil, adding just enough water to make the mess muddy. Slather the outside of the terra cotta pots with the muck and set aside to dry.

When the pots are dried, fill the insides with potting soil or vermiculite, and plant (and water) your starter seeds and seedlings as always. By the time you're ready to spread your shamrocks and hang your TriColor Flag in honor of St. Patrick's Day, your mud-painted pots will have exploded with lively, mossy greenery appropriate to the season and the saint.

Easter Bunny/Lost Lamb Topiaries

When ancient Romans gathered for seasonal shindigs, they crafted living sculptures for their elaborate topias, or gardens. You can surprise and delight your little ones with a few easy, larger-than-life lop-eared bunny topiaries arranged casually cross-legged on your garden bench, or a little lost lamb or two snuggled into the bird bath or perched atop the garden gate.

You can buy pre-shaped wire animal forms from most local garden supply shops, or shape them yourself with flexible wire. Fill the wire form, section by section, with handfuls of sphaghum moss, using fishing line or reel wire to secure the moss as you complete each section.

When your topiary shape is moss-filled, insert plugs of various small plants directly into the moss and space appropriately for growth. Be sure to consider leaf size in proportion to your form. Small-leafed ivies, such as Duckfoot, Japanese boxwoods, lavender, rosemary, thyme and myrtle are all good plant choices. Tie bright pastel ribbons around your topiary bunnies and lambs, and your outdoor Easter egg hunt this year will be sure to attract a crowd.

Here are a couple more quick ideas to dress up your lawn and garden for a holiday affair:

* Instead of (or in addition to) traditional red twinkle lights, hang bright red, long chili peppers from the bare branches of your favorite small trees. They'll lend your yard a bold splash of color on even the grayest winter day.

* For Easter -- or even the Spring Equinox -- shape a few oversized butterflies from craft wire, wrap them up in tiny multi-colored twinkle lights and secure them with reel wire to your picnic table, gazebo roof, clothesline, patio railing, or anywhere your nearly-spring yard could use a bit of fresh whimsy.

Next year, you should plan to shape and light wire cattails, dragonflies or a spouting blue fountain for a bit of added colorful drama. The variations on any holiday theme are limited only by your imagination. And remember, any day or season can merit the holiday treatment ... YOU decide. So dig in, light up and mess around -- but most of all, have fun.

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