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Outdoor Christmas Light Display Tips | The Basics

Updated on November 29, 2010

The holidays are nearly upon us. When my children were young, the Saturday after Thanksgiving was the day we put up the outdoor display. We had at our peak a little over 10,000 lights. The display included big candles, a Nativity Scene, Blow up Santa, and enough rope and twinkling lights to lay out a medium size airport. It was a bit different every year, and every night during thanksgiving week, you would find me out front of the house, looking things over and getting my ‘vision’. The planning included extension cord and power management, illumination intensity in bushes, trees, walkways, and doorways. Santa Sign placement and Nativity lighting were crucial elements not to be mixed as I felt it inappropriate to intermingle Santa and all that with the fundamental meaning of the holiday celebration. I was uniquely qualified for this as a Chief Tactical Air Traffic Controller for the Army, I had to plan mobile tower and radar installations, along with airfield lighting, and obstacle clearances etc, planning this sort of thing was what I did. No sweat.

On the Saturday after ‘Black Friday’ I entered into the whirling dervish mode and every year, without fail, had the display set and ready at dusk. Eventually I had an electrician come out and mount additional power outlets in strategic places, including a four ganger 30 amp outlet in the garage near the door, hooah! more Power! Thus never had an overloaded circuit or blown circuit breaker. Elevated lights (all of them) had drip loops worked into the placement so even through foul weather the system always worked. Below are some significant safety lessons learned in list form so you can do your display and worry only about the electric bill, not about the safety of your home and family.

Here are some Ideas

  1. Check the box of your lights, it will tell you the amperage and specifically how many like strings can be safely used together. Do not exceed these recommendations.
  2. Replace as many strings as you can with the new LED bulb strings, they are more power efficient and give off less heat and more light. Wish these had been out ten years ago, when my December light bill was over $500.00!
  3. If your cord connections are in the open and on the ground Decorate some coffee cans and cover the connection, ( I used small wire lighting stakes and elevated the plug inside the coffee can, double safe!)
  4. On suspended lights make a drip loop at each connection, ensuring the loop of the cord extended lower than the plug or any light. The moisture will follow the wire to its lowest point and drip. Keeping your connections safe.
  5. Keep track of the wattage/amperage of each group of strings totals to each outlet including the wall and extension cords, add 10% for the cords themselves and on a sticky label put the total by the wall outlet, Check to make sure your circuit breaker can handle the load before you fire it up.
  6. Check all wiring for frays and cuts, discard and replace any light string with damaged wires or outlets.
  7. I always checked each string before I hung it up. If it didn’t work I set it off to the side and worried about finding the fault on Sunday. As I found the faults, and fixed them (burned out lights mostly but check the in plug fuses first) I would integrate them into the system, but normally I had extra on hand when the system went up, so I’d label it fixed and set it in the box for next year.
  8. Guys, failing to plan is planning to fail! Since this traditionally falls to us, we must uphold our gender responsibilities and do this in a way that displays a focused intensity and organization that does credit to us all.  If you want to make it a team event with your huny, so be it but remember to keep the spirit of the season close at hand and refrain from the baser language when you ask for assistance when things are a bit muddled. Just stop, laugh at yourself, laugh at the lights, and laugh at the sky. Give your baby a hug and then figure out what’s wrong.

I salute all the guys who will face the holiday lighting puzzle this year, I say to you Merry Christmas and God Bless you each and every one.

Mr Christmas Light Controller

Mr. Christmas Lights and Sounds of Christmas - Helps you manage the electrical functions and adds music to your display as well. Amazon has the best price I've found so far but it is available at Lowes and Home Depot as well.

It has a high review rating from its users, and can simplify the routing and electricity management as well, with LED lights you are likely to significantly increase how many lights can be attached, over the 7,000 mini-bulbs indicated.

    * All-in-one outdoor light and sound system synchronizes yard lights with 20 holiday songs

    * 6 outlets each power 1,200 miniature lights¿ or 7,200 lights in total

    * Onboard speaker has full volume control and options to play songs randomly, select songs, and skip songs

    * Clear weatherized cases protect from moisture and dirt; UL Listed for outdoor use

    * Measures approximately 19 inches high


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    • Hmrjmr1 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      bengriston - I agree with that having the lights just for lights sake can be too busy, I liked an organized approach that put the manger scene well apart from the more commercial Santa stuff. and used the outside center to frame the Tree in the Window. Hope yours looks good! Thanks For stopping by and Merry Christmas!

    • bengriston profile image


      8 years ago

      Great tips! Some people make their displays way too busy and they end up not looking very good.

    • Hmrjmr1 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgia, USA

      TFT Glad it helped! Thanks for stopping in!

    • Truth From Truth profile image

      Truth From Truth 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      great tips , they will be helpful this year.

      I will check out the Led lights, mine are getting old anyway. Thanks

    • Hmrjmr1 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Queenbe, I must confess as a matter of my personal security I do not publish pics of my home on the internet, these are stock pics found on the web. This will be my first year home since I lost Zena (2005) and Johnny (last Dec 20th) so I'm not sure if I'm gonna do a big display, but I will do something.

    • queenbe profile image


      9 years ago from NY

      So which of the beautiful houses pictured are yours? They are gorgeous. Great tips and you definately put a great deal of work into your display. I love to drive around and look at lighted displays.

    • Hmrjmr1 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgia, USA

      readytoescape - great points and much thanks!

    • readytoescape profile image


      9 years ago from Central Florida


      Great Hub, three other points I might add to your great advice.

      #1. Have the light strings (mini lights only) plugged in and on while hanging, if one of the bulbs is loose they may have worked when you checked them, but the whole or half the string may go out when hanging.

      #2.If you want to change out mini lights for LED's some stores are offering a trade-in program providing discounts on the LED type. You can trade them in if the strings are working or not.

      #3. There is a great new tool on the market that will fix light strings, it looks like a toy gun, your plug in your light string in the gun and pull the trigger a few times and it will reset overload safetys in the light bulbs, typically the issue with strings that don't work. You may have to do this multiple times and up to 20 trigger pulls to repair multiple light bulbs but it works well. I used it last year and it saved a ton of time searching for bad bulbs and with over a hundred thousand lights at our house that is alot of time to save each year.

    • Hmrjmr1 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Tim-Tim Even Artifical trees can melt and burn if they get hot enough, The new LED bulbs are great for keeping things cooler, and are much safer. Thanks For stopping By!

      BPOP Thanks ours too. You can see the Glow from the other side of town. I wanna see Pics and a hub from ya next month!

    • breakfastpop profile image


      9 years ago

      Great hub as usual. My neighborhood looks like a wonderland out of a fantasy movie. It is truly am amazing time of year.

    • tim-tim profile image

      Priscilla Chan 

      9 years ago from Normal, Illinois

      Thanks for the tips. I used to have an artificial tree with lights on and I would leave it on for the night. Now I have to rethink the safety aspect. Thanks for another great hub!


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