Christmas Checklist: Outdoor Decorating

Try these festive facade ideas to set the neighborhood aglow -- then pack up some cocoa, crank some carols, and drive around to gather inspiration for next year.

Photography by: Victoria Pearson

Get the Shooting Star Lights How-To

Set Up the Lights

  • Follow the lines: When it comes to decorative outdoor lighting, let the architecture of your house -- along with your imagination -- guide you. Columns, fences, mailboxes, and street lights can be transformed into sparkling totems. Or try illuminating the front door with spotlights to show off a beautiful wreath.
  • Glow green: Bushes and trees are another base for fantastical holiday visions. Stephen Stefanou of Design Solutions, who has engineered holiday decorations at New York City's Rockefeller Center and Washington, D.C.'s Union Station, prefers the effect of light netting to that of winding a single strand. These nets are available in various sizes and can be connected to cover large areas. Stephen recommends arranging the lights while they are lit so that you can see exactly where you are placing them. Let it hang out. Icicle lights are a popular choice; when strung along the roof line, they dangle just like their frozen namesake. Embellish them with plastic crystals to take their soft glow to a full-on glitter effect.
  • Light a luminaria: Line curbs and driveways with lanterns made from decorative paper bags, milk jugs filled with sand, or even molded blocks of snow. If you can, sync up with your neighbors to turn the block into a full-on winter wonderland.
  • Safety note: Use lights that are made for outdoor use and that are approved by the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL). All light strands should have fuses; if one strand overloads, the fuse will blow and the lights will go out. If an overload occurs on an unfused strand, there is a chance of overloading circuits in your house. Never leave a bulb socket empty; if you want to black out a particular light, cover it with electrical tape. Also, always use heavy-duty, UL-listed exterior extension cords to power your outdoor lighting displays, and try to use an outlet with its own circuit, such as a seldom-used garage outlet, to avoid overloading the circuitry in the house.

Lawn Ornaments and More

  • Set the stage: Wicker reindeer? Inflatable Santa? There’s no shortage of outrageous lawn ornaments out there. We love these polished garden-stake stars and cheeky light-up gifts. You could even have an outdoor tree!
  • Go greenery: Deck more than just the halls with that holly. Evergreen boughs and potted arrangements will put guests in a festive mood before they even cross your threshold. Incorporating light into wreaths and garlands makes them nighttime-friendly too.
  • Interior exteriors: Don’t forget about the inside job! Candles in the windows or a tree by a picture window will help your home glow from within.