17 Ways to Decorate Your Home with Christmas Lights

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Christmas lights and kugel ornaments on Martha's tree
Ditte Isager

There's nothing like the twinkle of Christmas lights to conjure the season's magic. String them up and turn them on, and suddenly the holidays have arrived. But the possibilities go far beyond trees and rooftops. Here, you'll find more beautiful, unexpected ways to use them.

Although interiors have long been radiant with holiday light, illuminating the outside of houses didn't become popular until the late 1940s. Moved by decorated 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.

Today, there are endless ways to personalize your seasonal lighting, both indoors and out. You might shape stringed bulbs into radiant forms, embellish candleholders with glitter, or create a wreath with a modern sensibility. Micro lights help turn a branch into a stunning chandelier, for example, while pathway lights are repurposed as oversize outdoor tree ornaments. Rope and string lights—and even plain old sockets from the hardware store—are put to dazzling new uses evoking stars, snowflakes, and candles. Cleverly designed to make a big show with relatively few lights or other materials, all these projects also maximize your budget—another bright idea. 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.

Flickering candles and twinkling lights are more than mere decorations. They evoke the very spirit of the holidays, shining with warmth, hopefulness, and goodwill for all who pass by. Make the illumination your own, and, for a few short weeks, set the world aglow.

01 of 17

Joy Light Signage

"joy" light signage on a front door

Write a message in lights to share with all who pass by. We used LED rope lighting (with lights encased in flexible plastic tubing, available at hardware stores), which is bright, energy-efficient, and easy to work with. The rope lighting is secured to a grid of wire wreath forms with heavy-duty cable ties. Use our template for the word "Joy," spell out another sentiment, or create your own shape, such as a star or a tree.

Start by printing out the "Joy" template on sheets of 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper (the image is tiled; its total size is 55 by 48 inches). Arrange the papers on the floor or a large work surface, and tape them together. Or write your own message or design on a large sheet of paper. Lay out the double-rail wreath-form pieces in a grid formation over the template. Secure wreath-form pieces to one another with cable ties. Fold the rope light at its midpoint, halving its length (this will make for brighter lighting). Use cable ties to secure the two halves together every 6 to 8 inches. Starting with the folded end and at the beginning of the "J," wind the rope light over the letterforms, securing it to the framework using cable ties as you go. Hang the frame with attached lights in desired location (at night, the frame won't be visible), and attach extension cord to the end of the rope light. Turn on the lights and bask in the glow of joy!

Shop Now: Hampton Bay Rope Light Kit, 18", $14, homedepot.com. FloralCraft Square Wire Wreath Form, 16", $4.39, createforless.com. Cambridge Cable Ties, 8", $7 for 100, homedepot.com.

02 of 17

Snowflake Ornament Lights


The glimmering oversize ornaments, pictured here, seem to be falling from the sky. Each is made by hand-twisting rope lights, using our template as a guide. Hang them from their cords (disguised with ribbon) at varying heights along a porch or under the eaves of the house.

Download and print the snowflake template. Plug in lights for five minutes, placed on a flat surface. Place one end of a light at the base of a snowflake arm, and trace the arm, fastening lights with zip ties at the base and neck of the "bowling pin" shape; repeat. Attach first and sixth arms together with zip tie. Hide the remaining cord by weaving it up the top arm, securing with zip ties. Hang with ribbon.

Shop Now: Hampton Bay Rope Light Kit, 18", $14, homedepot.com. HS Clear Zip Ties, 6", $5.49, amazon.com. Spritz Red Grosgrain Ribbon, $3, target.com.

03 of 17

Winter Flowers

Victoria Pearson

December may not be the most floriferous month, but this arrangement graciously brings new life to a garden urn. On a flat surface, start by lashing together three 10-inch rods near the end of a 48-inch rod with floral wire; crisscross until secure. (For added strength, use hot glue.) Repeat with remaining rods to make three flowers. On each flower, attach four clips to each rod "petal" and 12 to each "stem," spacing them evenly. Place the bulb end of 50-bulb strand in an outermost clip on one petal. Wind wire around each petal and down stem, fitting each bulb into a clip, above center. Bundle the remaining length at the stem base, secure with zip tie, and place blackout caps on unused lights. To form a curve in the leaves, bend five 36-inch rods around a flower bucket. Use bolt cutters to trim 2 inches from end of curved part. Place 15 clips on each bent rod. Place the bulb end of a 15-bulb strand of lights in the first clip on the curved portion. Wind the strand around wire, fitting each bulb into a clip; repeat with other bent rods. Place 3-inch-wide PVC pipe (cut to fit below the urn's rim when vertical) in the center of a weatherproof urn; pack with gravel. Put stems and leaves in pipe, allowing plug end of each strand to come over top of pipe; connect plugs in the pot. Bend stems and leaves to create desired effect. For "snow," layer batting over gravel; make sure it doesn't touch the lights.

Shop Now: Novelty Lights 50-Bulb Strand of Single-Ended White Wire Mini Lights, $14, amazon.com. Everbilt Plain Round Rod, 3/4" by 48", $21.38, homedepot.com. Panacea 24 Gauge Green Floral Wire, $2.59, michaels.com. All American Christmas Company Mini Light Sculpture Clips, 1/8", $10 for 100, aachristmas.com. All American Christmas Company Black Out Caps, $8 for 30, aachristmas.com.

04 of 17

Shooting Stars

Victoria Pearson

Strung amid a grove of birches and hemlocks, shooting stars blaze trails of light across the darkening sky; their impact is especially striking when they are hung in multiples. The project may take a little time to assemble, but the results are so memorable and inspiring, you’ll be glad you reached for the stars.

05 of 17

Star Lights

Victoria Pearson

Bring a bit of the heavens down to snowy earth with stars fashioned from ordinary garden stakes. The side of a barn makes an ideal canvas for a constellation. To determine how many feet of lights you will need, first decide the size and number of stars you would like to make, and then add the lengths of each of the stakes required.

You'll need five bamboo garden stakes of equal length for each star (cut to size with a hand pruner; we trimmed ours to 2, 3, 5, 7 feet), small and large white zip ties, 100-bulb strands of white wire lights, 1 1/2-inch finishing nails or brads, and blackout caps. To make one star, on a flat surface, arrange stakes in a five-pointed star. Using small zip ties, secure the inner five points, and then secure the outer five points, top. Use a large zip tie to secure each of the outer points. Trim tie ends. Secure plug end of strand to 1 point of the star with small zip tie. Drape strand along the length of stake, and then pass it between the two stakes crossed at end. Repeat along the adjacent stake, above. Drape strand along every stake of star. Secure with small zip ties, and trim tie ends. Repeat to make more stars if desired. (Add more strands as needed to connect stars to one another.) Secure each star to a wooden building with 3 or more 1 1/2-inch finishing nails or brads. Use blackout caps to conceal the lights between each star.

Shop Now: Hayneedle Natural Bamboo Stakes, starting at $8.29 for 25, walmart.com. Everbilt Stainless Finishing Nails, 1 1/2", $1.67 for 100, homedepot.com.

06 of 17

String-Light Christmas Tree


In a child's room or hallway, a string-light tree is as festive as an evergreen. To create one, use adhesive hooks (four along the bottom, one at the top) to hang lights. Felt star ornaments add to the twinkle effect and can be made using the template. (Ivory and white are particularly chic, but you can make them in any color.)

Shop Now: Christmas Light Source 50 Mini White Lights, 2 1/2", $4, christmas-light-source.com. Christmas Light Source 100 Mini White Lights, 2 1/2", $6.78, christmas-light-source.com. 3M Safety Command Mini Hooks, $5.77 for 18 hooks and 24 strips, amazon.com. Woolfilz Wool felt, 18" by 18", in Ecru, $9.50, purlsoho.com.

07 of 17

Icicle Lights

icicle lights on a shelf

Bring the winter wonderland indoors with magical, diamond-bright icicle lights dangling under a shelf. For a natural look, cluster the lights into uneven groupings and stagger their placement; hang them using adhesive hooks. LED lights are more energy efficient, and these have a more realistic scale than traditional icicle lights.

Shop Now: Home Accents Holiday LED Icicle Bulbs, $30, homedepot.com. 3M Safety Command Mini Hooks, $5.77 for 18 hooks and 24 strips, amazon.com.

08 of 17

Lighted Pinecone Arrangement


Pinecone "flowers" with glowing centers fill a simple vase in this exquisite arrangement. For the petals, snip woody scales from pinecones, and glue them to plastic flowers on specialty string lights. Arrange the lights in a vase, and add tiny pinecones on wire stems for a lush, compact bouquet. Set it on a side table or a mantel for easy cord-hiding.

Shop Now: Echosari LED Flower String Lights, in Warm White, $12, amazon.com. Ashland Pinecones, $5, michaels.com.

09 of 17

Glowing Topiary-Ball Lanterns

topiary ball lights

Topiary frames wrapped in lights and tinsel make mesmerizing glowing orbs. Rope lights, which look as if they're filled with liquid beads, provide a smoother, more defined look than the standard string variety.

Working from the bottom up, wrap lights along horizontal ribs of the form, fastening with zip ties every few inches. Wrap tinsel around the form in spaces between lights, weaving through vertical ribs and securing with floral wire if desired. Trim excess tinsel. Hang with ribbon, hiding excess cord behind the ribbon.

Shop Now: BSManufaktura Wrapped Topiary-Ball Forms, starting from $24.35, etsy.com. Hampton Bay Rope Light Kit, $33 for 18', homedepot.com. SANNO Christmas Tinsel Garland, in Silver, $8, amazon.com.

10 of 17

Snowflake Tree Lights

snowflake christmas tree lights

Why stop with the indoor tree? Bedeck an outdoor evergreen for the holidays for a majestic effect. Start by wrapping branches in string lights. With floral wire, fasten the stake of an LED pathway light to the tree's top; wire more pathway lights to the branches, along with oversize shatterproof ornaments.

Shop Now:Christmas Central Snowflake Pathway Markers, $25 for 4, christmascentral.com. Jamali Garden Antique Silver Ribbed Ornament Balls, 5", $22 for 4, jamaligarden.com.

11 of 17

Lighted Mistletoe Chandelier


Fresh mistletoe lasts for only one season, but you'll be stealing kisses under this romantic chandelier for many holidays to come. Although it looks as though it has been cast from silver, the piece is made of faux mistletoe and dainty rice lights attached to a branch.

Trim excess twigs from the branch if desired. Attach a screw eye to the base of the branch. Cut mistletoe into sprigs, each with four to six leaves. Remove berries from the sprigs; reserve. Attach a sprig to the end of each of the branch's smaller branches with floral tape. Add more sprigs for a leafier look. Use floral tape to attach lights to branches (leave enough so the cord extends beyond the screw eye). Once lights are attached, pull ends of cord through the screw eye. Cover each light with masking tape. Spray-paint mistletoe and branches; let dry. Snap berries back onto mistletoe if desired. Hang from a hook or nail.

Shop Now: Hearth & Hand with Magnolia Faux Mistletoe with Black Velvet Ribbon, 11", $10, target.com. Deco Lights Battery Operated LED Rice Lights, $4, michaels.com. Panacea Floral Tape, in Light Green, $1.64 for 60', createforless.com. Krylon Premium Metallic Spray Paints, in Sterling Silver, $6.78, dickblick.com.

12 of 17

Hanging Tree Lights

Victoria Pearson

Conical Christmas trees, crafted from tomato cages and hung from the boughs of an oak, illuminate the agave below and lend a touch of winter to an arid climate. Extend the season for garden edgers by stringing them with lights to accentuate their curves and then lining a walkway with them for a welcoming look.

Shop Now: Walmart Galvanized Tomato Cage, 33" by 12", $6, walmart.com.

13 of 17

Starry Tree Lights

Dana Gallagher

The night sky's beauty wraps around bare winter branches to stunning effect. Try using strands of lights with different-size bulbs, and don't worry about distributing them evenly—clusters of brightness here and there resemble constellations. Hang larger Moravian stars for more drama.

Shop Now: Keystone Building Products Illuminated Moravian Stars, $50 for 2, homedepot.com.

14 of 17

Leaf-Embellished Lantern

holiday lantern with candles and magnolia leaves
Jason Penney

Just a few leaves—some evergreen, some glimmering silver as if dusted with snow—add subtle wintry beauty to a candlelit chandelier. For a four-sided fixture, select 12 small magnolia leaves. Cover eight with glue and silver tinsel glitter. When dry, use dots of glue to affix leaves to fixture—three at each corner, with a green one in the middle. Tie a tiny silver bow around the overlapping stems.

Shop Now: Afloral Preserved Magnolia Leaves, $44 for 200, afloral.com. American Crafts Tinsel Glitter, in Silver, $7, amazon.com.

15 of 17

Snow Pillars


Cast a glow over a silent night with candles set inside pillars of molded snow. All you need to build a display are Bundt pans (which have holes in their centers) in different shapes and sizes, and a blanket of freshly fallen flakes.

To make one, pack snow into a nonstick or tinned steel bundt pan. To release the form, tap the bottom of the pan firmly. If snow "cake" doesn't come out in one piece, pack the snow in again and let the filled pan sit outside for about thirty minutes to harden; release. Trim the wick of a pillar candle to 1/4 inch, so the flame stays small. Secure the candle on a flat surface, such as a step, by packing snow around it. Once you have three forms, stack them over the candle. Lightly spritz the pillar with water; everything will freeze in place. To light the candle, use a long fireplace match.

Shop Now: Nordic Ware 3 Piece Tiered Bundt Set, $36, target.com. Ashland Basic Elements White Pillar Candles, $8 for 3, michaels.com.

16 of 17

Glowing Gift Boxes

Matthew Hranek

When it comes to decorative outdoor lighting, let the architecture and landscape of your house—along with your imagination and our ideas—guide you. With little effort, you can give your home extra holiday sparkle. Familiar electric lights are transformed with ease. Lit from within, these presents suggest magical snow sculptures.

17 of 17

String-Light Snowflakes

Snowflake Barn
Ryan Liebe

For a radiant outdoor display, think beyond trellises and fences and deck out wooden lattice strips with lights. Form lengths of the wood into snowflake silhouettes, paint them silver, and then staple string lights to the frames.

To form a snowflake: Following our assembly plan, use a miter saw (or ask your local home center or lumber yard) to cut wooden strips for the desired-size snowflake. Put two short angled pieces together so they form a V, placing as indicated on the plan. Holding the pieces snugly together, use a staple gun to attach the V to a strip; tap staples down with a hammer. Using plan as a guide, continue attaching Vs, alternating between securing them to the front and back of strips. Cross two lattice strips to make an X, then place third strip vertically on top. With a pencil, mark two spots about an inch apart at center where all three pieces intersect. Working on scrap wood, drill holes at both marks, through all three pieces of wood. Drill a long wood screw into each pilot hole.

Shop Now: Alexandria Moulding Pine-Wood Lattice Molding, 1/4" by 1 5/8" by 96", $3 each, homedepot.com. Martha Stewart Metallic Finish Spray Paint & Primer, in Sterling, $8, michaels.com.

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