The holidays are here spelling stress for many homeowners. But by following our Holiday How-To Guide for prepping your home for the festive season, your headaches will be minimal. From bringing home the tree to hanging the lights and spinning the Chanukah dreidel, this guide will have you saying, “Bring it on.”
Before heading to your local tree lot or to chop it down from a field, know where you want your Christmas tree to be displayed. Make sure the area is clear of furniture, and if you want it in front of the window or in a corner. Next, set up the tree stand in the spot; unscrew the bolts before so the tree can be slipped in easily.
Taking it Home
Lugging in the Christmas tree can leave a mess; try wrapping it from top to bottom in burlap cloth or a large sheet to encase the needles. Being bound should stop the needles and branches from falling onto your nice floors.
Steadying the Tree
With the trunk next to the stand, slowly unwrap the tree from the sheet or burlap material while rolling it on the floor. Next, stand the tree upright, if the trunk is not cut; slice off the end with a mini-saw or very sharp serrated knife depending on its thickness. Place in the tree stand with the help of another person. Begin screwing in the bolts making sure the tree is secure. Sweep away all needles and mess, and wrap the stand in a tree blanket that fits your taste. The tree needs to be placed in water immediately. Be sure to fill base of stand ¾ with water, and check the water level daily.
Safety is key when showcasing the Christmas tree. All ornaments should be child-safe and pet-safe (not glass or containing small swallow-able parts). Check that lighting is not faulty and that bulbs are not burned out. If only one or two bulbs are burned out, you should be able to buy replacements. If there are more, than it might be best to replace the entire strand with a new one. Outlets should be checked for loose wiring. Someone should always be home when the tree is lit.
If you are headed out for the holiday season, it would be best to keep the tree from being lit, since they can be flammable. Be sure the tree is far away from heaters, radiators and other heat sources. Have a neighbor check water levels every other day and water accordingly. If you are going to be away for an extended time, consider placing your tree lights on timers to trick thieves into thinking you are home and reducing the amount of heat on those pine needles.
Dress the tree to your taste. Consider store-bought tinsel and garland or string popcorn kernels together and shred colored foils for a homemade feel. Dig out favorite family heirlooms, sentimental ornaments and the like to personalize the tree.
Tree experts and landscapers say cut trees need water almost daily or at least every other day; they dry out quickly and can become a fire hazard. Use a funnel to pour water into the stand to avoid spillage. Vacuum fallen needles daily to stop them from spreading throughout the house or from small children and pets eating excess needles.
Lawn ornaments range from outdoor nativity scenes to inflatable Santa figures. Other options include wreaths, topiaries, lighted pathway markers, statues and large lighted gift boxes. Figure out how much space you have before purchasing.
Rather than competing with your neighbor for the best outdoor holiday decor, take time to ensure lawn decorations are arranged correctly. Try pre-planning the arrangement by sketching the vision on a notepad. Find a theme and design around that theme. Opt for heavier lawn decorations that will stay firmly planted in poor weather conditions. Be aware that some overpowering decorations can look tacky rather than festive.
If you plan a display of more than four or five decorations, or if you’re hoping it will attract outside visitors – and perhaps the nightly news – send out flyers or contact neighbors directly apprising them of your plan. Spell out the hours planned to light the house (we recommend 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. so it doesn’t interfere with anyone’s sleep), giving them the opportunity to object before the lights are shining in their windows or the lawn ornaments are blocking their view. It never hurts to be neighborly.
Before stringing up rows of holiday lights, check for plenty of working electrical outlets. Most homes have exterior sockets, but if not, use extension cords. Tape down extension cords if they are running from inside to outside to avoid tripping. Lights are labeled for interior and exterior use; outdoor lights have larger bulbs and are weather resistant. Get tips on hanging exterior lights.
Consider store-bought timing units to control holiday lights at specific intervals and help prevent fires and overheating.
Use a ladder to hang lights; check for broken springs or steps. Wear shoes with rubber soles or good treads and employ a spotter to hold the ladder. Make sure all lights are intact, replacing burned out bulbs, if needed. Save time by plugging in lights for faulty bulbs before installation. A tool belt comes in handy holding materials such as hooks, a tape measure, and a hammer.
Hanging lights can be tricky, sketch or pre-plan a theme before beginning. Staying clean and simple may be best. Before hanging the light strands, screw in hooks a few inches apart, moving the ladder to avoid overreaching. When hanging multiple strands together, check that they are connected tightly.
Sometimes, lights fail for various reasons. If you have trouble, check all electrical connections, timers, strand fuses, bad bulbs, Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) circuit breakers, light switches inside the house connected to the outdoor outlet, and connections to extension cords. If none of this helps, start over with a fresh set of light strands.
If you want to place a decoration on the rooftop, be careful installing it and read the directions thoroughly. Have a friend help you place it securely. Keep it away from wires, chimneys, wood shingles, etc. Wear shoes with good treads when putting it on the roof.
Readying the Kitchen
Stocking the Pantry
Keeping the usual suspects in the kitchen pantry is helpful: Bread, marshmallows, nuts, gourmet chips and salsa or dip (and any other favorite snacks), flour, holiday spices, cake mixes, frosting, pie crusts, and the like. For the fridge, include: eggs, milk, half and half, coffee, sandwich fixings for overnight guests, fruit (both fresh and frozen), butter and juice.
Whether you have a favorite cookbook or a file handed down from previous generations, keeping recipes at the ready is important. You might have guests dropping by announced and will have to whip up something quickly.
The holidays are a festive time with many people enjoying (and looking forward to) a cocktail. Stocking the family bar, the bar’s fridge or kitchen pantry with eggnog, cocktail mixes, wine, and basics such as whiskey, vodka, Kahlua, gin, etc., is a must. Have barware such as wine glasses, tumblers, ice bucket, blender, canned olives, onions, stirrers, etc., clean and available.
Nothing says the holidays are here better than a well decorated home. Candles can do the trick. Grouping different sized pillar candles in several colors and textures makes a dramatic statement. Try entwining vines and ribbons between the pillars for a romantic style. Be sure there is some form of inflammable flat dish or candle plate placed under candles so they do not get overheated and start a fire. Do not place candles by themselves on top of wood surfaces.
Mantles and Staircases
Placing colorful plants or floral arrangements on fireplace mantles quickly creates warmth in a room. Poinsettias and topiaries can add a splash of color. Tacking up holiday stockings, setting the table with festive flatware and dishware along with holiday-themed centerpieces helps bring in holiday cheer. Wrapping garland around staircases, swags, balconies or tacking it around door frames adds instant pizzazz.
Spices and Scents
Potpourri in spicy scents such as Pine or Spruce get everyone in the mood. Mulled spices on the stovetop or baking cookies makes everything smell delicious. Consider gathering the kids to bake and make gingerbread houses, and then display their creations.
Setting the dinner or kitchen table with colorful flatware and dishware along with fun centerpieces brings a table to life. Adding festive serving pieces such as soup tureens, big pitchers and serving platters or using pinecones, and sprinkling glitter is a different way to decorate. Add starched patterned linen tablecloths and napkins with holiday napkin rings for a special touch.
Front and Back Door
Don’t forget to drape outdoor porches with fresh Evergreen garlands, small potted Pine trees, leafy Poinsettias or tack Christmas wreathes to your doors. Learn how to make your own wreath.
Unpack menorahs from storage, use Sterling Silver polish/cleaner for shine and sparkle. Pull out dreidels, cookware and other Chanukah inspired items including plates and serving platters. Buy menorah candles to go with your decor.
Have on hand, ingredients needed for the traditional Chanukah meal including potatoes, cooking oil, sour cream and applesauce for potato pancakes or latkes. Have ingredients for Chanukah donuts, also called Sufganiot. Store-bought mixes are often available from local supermarkets for both. Feeling adventurous? Prepare traditional spiced brisket or borscht for the holiday meal (talk to your local butcher about details).
While there are no designated colors to represent Chanukah, blue, gold and silver are often used to decorate around the festivities. With this in mind, create a beautiful display of silver and gold candles along a mantle. Decorate the dinner table with a navy runner or placemats, and add navy napkins, silver napkin rings, and silver plate chargers. Then strew gelt (faux gold coins, often chocolate-filled) along the middle of the table. Encourage kids in the family to make and decorate paper dreidels and the Star of David, and display around the house. Place more bagged coins in a big colorful jar to put on display (have a game to guess the amount of coins in the jar). For an additional treat, you can always bake Chanukah cookies shaped in menorahs, stars and dreidels.
If you are hosting a Chanukah party, have plenty of games for kids and adults. Spinning the dreidel is traditional as is singing Chanukah songs. Purchase Chanukah song books/lyrics from Jewish bookstores and/or gift stores.