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Nights All Aglow: Outdoor Lighting

Martha Stewart Living, December 2007

Holiday memories are imbued with a certain warmth, even though the celebrations occur on the coldest nights of the year. Light also permeates these events, playing a major role in both ritual and decor.

Centuries ago, candles were invaluable not just for practical reasons but also for their ability to enhance moods and cut through the gloom of winter. A Christmas tree bedecked with lighted candles was a treasured tradition, though it could be savored for only a few moments; families couldn't safely enjoy such a spectacle for extended periods until electrical lights designed specifically for trees became available in 1901.

Although interiors have long been radiant with holiday light, illuminating the outside of houses didn't become popular until the late 1940s. Moved by decorating trees in downtown squares, homeowners wanted their own outdoor displays. What better way to share the spirit of the season than to brighten the way of all who passed by?

Ornamental lights have weathered many fads over the years, from chunky multicolored bulbs to tiny twinklers. But no matter the current trend, the neatly illuminated outline of a house and shrubs covered in a maze of strands remains as much a part of Christmas as gifts under the tree.

Whether your holiday is blustery or balmy, it's easy to take this season's decorations beyond the eaves. Inspired by displays in snowy climates from New York to Germany, as well as those devised by lighting enthusiast Brett Laymance in his Southern California garden, these designs will sparkle no matter where you live. Ranging  from simple to intricate, they make use of readily available materials and can be installed year after year. The projects may take a little time to create, but when you gather friends and family for a helping hand, you may start a beloved holiday tradition -- and that makes for the warmest memories of all.

Light Installation Tips
1. Test all lights before beginning a project, and inspect strands for broken or missing bulbs; discard any with worn insulation.

2. Plan the configuration so the plug end is near your electrical source.

3. Keep lights plugged in as you work with them so you can see the effect you're creating as you proceed. Rope lights are also more pliable when they're warm.

4. Check the light strands' packaging to see how many you can safely string together.

5. Take extra caution when using ladders in winter conditions. Do not climb one if it is not securely situated.

6. Buy lights and extension cords rated for outdoor use (Underwriters Laboratories puts green holographic tags on light strings meant only for indoor use; red tags indicate the light strings can be used inside and out). Be sure outdoor outlets are equipped with ground fault interrupter (GFI) switches.

Outdoor Lighting How-Tos
Icicles How-To
Winter Arrangement How-To
Stars How-To
Hanging Trees How-To
Shooting Stars How-To
Edgers How-To

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