Friday, November 28, 2008

Sense of the Season: Go Green This Christmas

by April Garza

‘Tis the season when we usually go overboard on everything—food, drink, presents, spending and utility bills. I’m not saying we shouldn’t make merry with the food and drink (although, our waistlines will thank us come January if we don’t), but I am planting the seed that this year is a good year to cut back on the Christmas lights.

While it’s lovely to shine a light of welcome in the dark days of winter, your lawn decorations don’t have to be massive enough for the folks up in the International Space Station to enjoy. I know that some of you have already put up the outside trim, but for those of you who haven’t why not tone it down this season? It’s better for both the environment and your wallet.

Of course, you know my motto by now: simple is best. Part of that has always been living within my always merger budget, but the other part is that simple is easier. (Also, unless you really know what you’re doing like those with art or interior design degrees or natural decor geniuses, well, the more that gets thrown together the more a lawn starts looking like you’re wishing everyone a very merry “Chaos” instead of Christmas.)

What did I do for the outside decorations this year? Simple as always. I put a wreath on the front door, draped a lighted garland on the railing of my front porch, and a winter “Welcome” sign on my back door. I used to go in for all white lights in my decorations, but because I do so little lighting outside, I switched to multicolor lights a few years ago. (I may have been inspired by the small stained glass window in my front door, too. I’m a big believer in letting the decorations reflect the style of the house.) Granted, you don’t have to go all minimalist like me, but no matter what you decide to do, here are some tips to make the outside holiday decorations easier:

1. Use pre-lit greens.

Pre-lit garlands, wreaths, trees, what-have-yous are the best invention since sliced bread in my opinion. Buy them if you can, but you don’t have to pitch your old, non-lit decorations if they’re still in good shape.

My “pre-lit” garland wasn’t that way out of the original box, but it is now when it comes out of my storage boxes. I made the garland from four artificial garland pieces (purchased après Christmas at the sales, of course!) that are now wired together into one long garland that’s the right size for my porch railing. The first year I put it up, I added the strings of lights, made sure they were placed well, and attached them securely. Fake greens are great for holding on the lights because all you have to do is bend the little branches around the light string like a twist tie and voila! The lights aren’t going anywhere. The lights are connected and I have just the one plug, ready and waiting, to go into the extension cord. At the end of the season, I just unplug it, wind up the garland, and store it away for the next year.

Eventually, as the old light strands start dying, I will invest in LED sets to be kinder to the environment and my electric bill, but for now what I have will have to do.

2. Timers

Stop at the hardware store and pick up a timer for your Christmas lights. (Of course, if you put up Halloween/fall lights like me, the timer and extension cord are already set and good to go. All you have to do it unplug the old season lights and plug in the new.)

Timers are the best invention since...I guess I have to say “since pre-lit decorations” so I don’t have to rewrite number one above. Your lights will then be on to brighten up the end of your day when you get home and you won’t have that moment of “Did I remember to turn off the Christmas lights?” angst when you’re all tucked into bed. You can also get one for the tree inside the house. (I usually want to turn that on and off at such different times it doesn’t work well for me.)

3. Plastic storage bags and boxes.

If you don’t have any, pick them up this year at the after holiday sales. (Actually, due to the financial crunch this year, the stores may have some extra good sales before Christmas so keep your eye out.) If you’re like me, you have to store the big stuff out in the garage. Plastic tubs are the way to go, because they provide good—though not fool-proof—protection from water. They’re also sturdier for stacking and last longer than the corrugated storage boxes.

I store my indoor evergreens in one box and outdoor greens in another so I can grab them easily and don’t have to sort things out every year. Special boxes for wreaths are great because you can find them easily due to their shape and size. I also have a nice big tree bag with handles on it. It’s so easy to pack and carry, I don’t know how I managed before I got it! I stack the tubs for the evergreens on the side of the garage and put the tree bag on top; it’s higher and drier—and much easier to lift.

4. Big red bows.

If you want a splash of color, go for the bows. You can get big, red ones that will stand up well to the weather almost anywhere so check around for the best bargains. If you don’t have any and want them now instead of waiting for the sales, I suggest stopping by a dollar store: red bows are such a general stock item that they’re sure to have some and it won’t break your budget.

Bows can be added to your wreaths; they look great attached to each post on a porch railing; and your can even decorate whole outdoor trees—evergreen or otherwise—and get a big impact with this simple, tasteful effect.

5. Edit your decorative scheme.

Okay, not everyone’s going to agree with me on this one: If you love all the lighted and inflatable lawn figures, I encourage you to make a bold statement by sticking to one theme. Religious with angels, choir boys, manager scenes and stars is fine; Santa with his reindeer, sleigh and presents is it great; whimsical with penguins, deer, and other animals is cute, too (you could even add Santa to that one). But if you throw them all together, you get that “Merry Chaos” feeling I spoke of earlier. And, did I mention, that big electric bill? Not such a merry after Christmas gift to yourself!

If you’ve already got all these decorations, what do you do with them? Remember, you can always rotate themes like the department stores do for their windows. Also, heads up: no one needs more than one lawn Santa.

6. On the other hand...

This holiday more than any other is about Nostalgia (yes, with a capital N) so if it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas to you without everything you own on display, go for it. That warm, heart-felt, fulfilled feeling is what helps us all be kinder to our fellow humans and that is definitely not something to cut back on no matter what happens on Wall Street!

I know a lot of this column has been about the practical side of Christmas decor, but my theory is that we should all spend more time enjoying the look of the season than stressing out over putting up and taking down all the festive glitter.

Next time, I’ll give you some insight into what goes on indoors at my holiday-decked house.


angie said...

i enjoy a hot toddy at this time of year we dont decorate because we dont have a lot of space and mum cant have a lot of dust about but when my kids was little we used to put up a tree and lights in the frint garden and have a bucket out on the street for people to drop some money in for children in need

Sloane Taylor said...

April, your post is wonderful, including the delightful humor. I applaud you and will practice what you've preached.

Ms. Priss said...

I love Chauncer's Mead at the holiday time and during the winter months it is good for a warm up.

angie said...

i love to see xmas lights and holly and the ivy and mistle to, the carolers that come down the street