I take it you survived Thanksgiving.
I had a relatively low-key holiday, having actually slept through the first half hour of dinner. What can I say? My own queen-size bed (ranking nine to ten Zs on the Z-scale) got me good.
In some sense, I hope that your evening was as uneventful as mine. Even if it wasn’t, I’m confident that you were prepared to deal with any catastrophe that might have arisen, like a turkey fire, thanks to part three of the Holiday Preparation Toolkit.
I’m going to take a step away from safety for the rest of the Toolkit — at least mostly. Today, I suppose, you will learn how to avoid being crushed by falling ornaments, but the safety lesson starts and ends right there. What I mean is this: we’re going to be focusing on how to hang a decoration and keep it hung.
The most obvious form of decoration that needs to be strung up, of course, is holiday lights, and with the coming of December 1st, most folks are getting ready to dive into it. Before you even think about hanging a light string, however, you need to do a bit of preparation.
The very first thing you should do is check the bulbs and wires. Replace old strings, read the safety label to check how many strings you can use end-to-end, make sure to use waterproof lights outdoors, and check for frayed ends. You should also check for burnt-out bulbs, simply for cosmetic reasons.
I was surprised to learn recently that modern holiday lights remain lit when a bulb burns out. Older lights, as many of our readers will remember, used to shut off completely when a light went out, or the string of lights would simply refuse to light up from the burnt bulb onward.
Nowadays, you can lose a bulb without shutting down a large section of your lighting, but as a trade-off, it’s become harder to spot when a light goes out. Plug the light in and carefully check each bulb, being careful not to burn yourself.
Make a Plan
Then, you should plan where you want the lights to be hung. Holiday lights are commonly run along gutters, rooftops, hedges, and an array of other locations. Figure out where you need to get the lights, how many strings you need, where the power will come from, and most vitally, whether the lights are touching anything. Be sure to use an emergency shut-off on outdoor lights, and never overload a power strip. You should also never hang lights near power lines, because it can cause a serious fire. (An aside: I told myself I would not mention safety, and yet, here we are.)
Make It Easy On Yourself
Once you know where you’re hanging the lights, figure out what kind of fastener you’ll use to do it. Plastic ties can be helpful, but there are actually metal and plastic clips specifically made to hold holiday lights. These are easy to use, and they don’t run a risk of ripping or pinching the wires like pins or clamps would.
After you’ve chosen where to run your holiday lights and identified the proper hangers, it’s time to actually follow through and put them up. To make this as easy as possible, you can reach for a few different devices. For example, there are several products that can cut down on the tangle of wires.
Quick Lighting Fixes
Holiday lights are now sold in latticed nets, known strangely enough as net lighting, which can be draped over trees and hedges. That way, you can avoid weaving multiple strings of lights into a shrubbery and having to keep the cables from crossing.
A similar product is the shimmer sphere. These bright, geodesic spheres of holiday bulbs can be hung from rooftops, trees, bushes, and other high-up spots. They make a beautiful space filler in large yards where you may only have a handful of trees and nowhere else to decorate.
Instead of a sparse landscape of grass and string lights, you can use shimmer spheres to fill the space below the trees in your yard with floating orbs. You can also arrange them in a triangular pattern inside the branch structure of a larger tree, to imitate the shape of a Christmas tree. It can sometimes even fool the eye into seeing a pine tree in place of the barren branches.
An option to avoid light strings altogether (and a very strong option, I think) is to use window candles. There’s just something so peaceful about the yellow, flickering light of a candle propped up and shining through a window pane. As a child, very many of my Christmas Eves were spent sleepless in dreamlike candlelight.
The lighting adds a solemn element of seclusion to your house, as well, if you’re not interested in attracting neighbor’s stares. If you’re really serious about it, you can buy special candle holders that elevate the candle above the window sill, to show more of the candle holder.
Computers and Metal Claws
You can also cut down on the variety of different styles of lights that you might want to keep around. RGB LED light strings are a programmable LED light product that can be made to shine in essentially any combination of colors, including white. The bulbs are smaller and less distinct from each other than incandescent light strings, so the effect is more subtle, and frankly, more futuristic. However, if you can get past the less-traditional look, there’s a lot you can achieve with custom lights.
My final suggestion to streamline your holiday light-hanging process is to use one of those claws that people use to pick things up off the ground. You can use them to lift up a section of lights and hang it. If you drape the lights in a scalloped pattern, you can use the claw to evenly space the dips and keep them at an equal height. That way, you may be able to avoid bringing out a ladder, in some places.
How To Tear Your Lights Down
In life, I’ve come to find that one of the best ways to get familiar with the ins and outs of a new technology is to learn how to intentionally break it. As you figure out how to deal with the problem and determine why this hypothetical device has broken, you will learn the “rules” of the technology, and you’ll become familiar with its limits.
I’m not suggesting that you purposely destroy your holiday lights, but I am suggesting that we should talk it over and figure out how exactly you are most likely to tear down your lights while installing them.
Spoiler alert. There are two main options: falling and tripping. Tripping is simple. If you leave cables and wires running along the ground without taping them down or tucking them out of the way, you will trip, pulling all the lights off your house.
As for falling, there are actually a million ways to do that. You could fall backwards, taking your ladder with you. You could tip sideways, tearing the lights down. You could slip and fall straight down, with no-one around to help. Ad infinitum.
How Not To Tear Your Lights Down
Avoiding this is actually very easy. First, use a spotter so that you aren’t alone. Have your spotter hold the ladder at the bottom and warn you if it begins to move. Beforehand, you’ll want to ensure that your ladder is firmly placed at the proper angle so that it will not shift.
“The rule of thumb is four to one.” It rhymes, so you can remember it. For every four feet of ladder height that you’ll be using, the base of the ladder should stand one foot away from the wall. An eight foot ladder should be angled so that the base is two feet from the wall, for example.
OSHA adds that you should also have three feet worth of ladder sticking above the landing at the top, for what it’s worth. That means, in general, that you should use a ladder three or four feet taller than the wall. If you can anchor the ladder at the landing, even better.
(From The Chimney With Care)
One final topic I’d like to touch on before we wrap up is stockings. These obviously have nothing to do with hanging lights, besides the common theme of being suspended in mid-air. However, you will want to be careful when you hang stockings, just like lights.
Empty stockings might hang nicely wherever you place them, but you may not be so lucky once you’ve stuffed them full. You need to make sure that, wherever you hang the stockings, they are secured firmly enough to hold them, plus a sock-ful of candy. Hooks above the fireplace are standard, but there’s no need to install a permanent solution for a holiday that only comes once a year.
Coat Racks and Bedposts
For a low-key stocking set-up, you can opt to use a coat rack. I know that in the Tryptophan Report, I said coat racks don’t exist anymore, but I was just kidding. They exist; it’s just that nobody uses them. Thus, it’s very thrifty to re-purpose a coat rack and make a stocking rack instead. Stick it in a corner, pretty it up, and hang your stockings.
If you possess an expert level of guile and subterfuge, you can just use your family’s bed posts as hangers, instead. Sneak into the bedroom in the middle of the night, hang the stocking, and leave. If you really want to mess with their heads, dress in a red and white suit and wear a beard. You know, in case they wake up while you’re in the room.
Do it right, and your loved ones will wake up to find a sock stuffed with candy. I don’t know about you, but I would have lost my little mind as a child if I’d woken up to that — and it would have had me chomping at the bit to see what was waiting for me downstairs.
Branches and Stairs
For a woodsy Christmas look, you can find a good-looking branch, sand it off, and apply a finish, if you’d like. You’ll then be able to secure the branch on a shelf or affix it to a wall. You can hang the stockings from the branch with string, but again, be sure that your branch can hold the weight of a bunch of stuffed stockings.
This next idea, I feel, is classic. My aunt used to do this at her house, even long after her children moved out, because it just looks so quaint. You can simply hang your stockings from the staircase, with each stocking sitting above a different stair. If you even them out, you can get a nice, straight line pointing down the stairs, leading the kids from their bedrooms to the Christmas tree.
Finally, if you aren’t in a DIY mood, sometimes the best option is just to purchase a specialized stocking hanger. They make weighted hangers that sit on shelves while the stocking dangles below, but you can also find tension clips that hold the stocking while being pinned to the shelf.
If you don’t have a shelf above your fireplace, or you have some other wall you’d like to hang the stockings from, brick clips might be a good idea. These handy clips will hook onto an average-sized brick and some brands will allow you to hang up to 50 pounds of weight. Just be sure that you hook the clip onto the bricks snugly!
Don’t feel like you’re skipping out by buying hangers, either. There are a million other places to put effort, and the stockings aren’t necessarily the most important. As always, consider the big picture when you’re decorating, and use the small elements of your house to piece together the whole design.