Both Christmas and Hanukkah are associated with lights -- sparkling on trees, illuminating home exteriors, nestled into evergreen garlands, flickering in symbolic candles. But in recent years, there's been much more thought given to holiday decorative lighting with a boost from technology, including the advent of LEDs, and many more design possibilities. A variety of seasonal favorites from trees to reindeer -- even menorahs -- in tabletop to large scale (five or six feet) are being pre-wired for lights.
LED and fiber-optic lights have expanded design options for Christmas decorations, especially outdoors. The more energy-efficient, durable light-emitting diodes may be more expensive up front, but they are longer lasting than incandescent bulbs. They also are brighter, which has made decorating schemes more brilliant and vivid in color.
Add to that battery-powered operation that extends the range and uses of Christmas trees, which were previously tethered to an outlet. In addition, wreaths, mantel garlands, tabletop tableaus, and amazing gift boxes and ornaments are so beautifully lit, they channel professional installations.
You may well notice a new category that covers seasonal lighting on retail websites, emerging from under the umbrella of all that holiday decor. Prices range from under $20 to several hundred dollars.
One particular trend that has really gained traction is that of mini string lights. Restoration Hardware was one of the first to feature the skinny strands of light in glass cloches. The effect is enchanting -- it's reminiscent of fireflies captured in a bottle. Set on a mantel, chest of drawers or sideboard, a glowing vessel dazzles. Add the light strands to bowls or cylinders filled with pine cones, ornaments or glittery tree branches. Or orbs or architectural pieces made of clear, crackled or mercury glass -- it's an easy way to add instant ambience and a romantic touch, like lighted candles.
The more pliable lighted strands also are being used as a decorating tool to outline objects. At a minimum, they can be manipulated into shapes, like giant circles at West Elm that can be incorporated into holiday decor. Or, taking a cue from larger theater-style lights that spell out holiday messages like "joy," they are used to decorate overscale packages at Frontgate, following the outer dimensions of boxes or ribbon ties, or the striping of a pattern -- an effective option for dressing up the front porch or stairs.
Also, dimensional objects like stars are especially dramatic when the scale is oversized.
The light-up trend also has boosted the natural decorating style, which is here to stay as a holiday category (think woodsy, whites, casual) that can be glammed up with metal, crystal or mirrored objects. Star shapes are striking in weathered wood outlined with lights at Pottery Barn, or in birch, whose primitive forms look like paper cutouts that children might make in school projects. Light strands woven through rattan provide an option for unexpected sparkle. In addition, lit birch branches stashed in a tall vase or bucket can illuminate a dark corner, lending a festive touch.
Another captivating application is incorporated into a live or synthetic wreath chandelier; at Terrain, the light strands are woven through, and fall as streamers for a magical touch.
Battery-operated LED lights also provide options for decorating spots that otherwise might be difficult, eliminating the need for outlets, cumbersome electrical cords and the challenge of disguising them so they don't take away from the display. Weave them into garlands swagged across a window or over a doorway, or across the top of a mantel to add a glow to an heirloom creche or seasonal evergreens and ornaments.
Even conventional hanging baskets for the outdoors are being treated to holiday lights. Brookstone sells one ready to hang, its moss-filled metal frame plumped with synthetic evergreens threaded with LED lights.
Color choices are noticeably richer, often with an option for warm or cool white light or multiple colors, with new alternatives such as pink and purple added to the mix. Some can create a sort of light show, covering several hues or offering the option to stay on one color. And at Frontgate and Brookstone, you can purchase remotes to quickly switch on and off.
Any medium that's reflective is especially effective with lights. That's why mercury glass vessels or small Christmas trees or globes, lit from within, are favorites. Now there are also mercury glass light strands, which have a retro look.
Also in the retro vein are theater-style lights with holiday messages. This year, there's a new twist at Pottery Barn. The bulbs outline bronze letters that anchor hooks for Christmas stockings. One especially poignant message: PEACE.
There are plenty of inspiring decorating ideas in home design magazines and blogs, as well as some of the retailer websites. To spruce up your own holiday decor this year, you might consider purchasing some new light strands. Besides the enormous range of unusual shades thanks to LED, there also are a variety of styles beyond just bulbs -- and even those offer a variety in scale and texture.
Perhaps taking a cue from perforated light fixtures and lanterns, there are metal globes in a range of patterns. Some lights are combined with other materials, like a hybrid garland.
With these new lighting options, you can be as subtle or as flamboyant as you wish. Create a tableau of trees as a backdrop to a sofa in a living room. Hang some lighted stars in the windows or from the ceiling in the foyer.
These lights may brighten homes and spirits with good wishes for the holiday season and a wonderful new year -- one filled with love and peace for all.
-- Baccarat, 800-215-1300, us.baccarat.com/lighting
-- Brookstone, 866-576-7337, www.brookstone.com
-- Crate and Barrel, 800-967-6696, www.crateandbarrel.com
-- Frontgate, 888-263-9850, www.frontgate.com
-- Pottery Barn, 888-779-5176, www.potterybarn.com
-- Restoration Hardware, 800-762-1005, www.restorationhardware.com
-- Terrain, 877-583-7724, www.shopterrain.com
-- West Elm, 888-922-4119, www.westelm.com
-- Wisteria, 800-320-9757, www.wisteria.com
Warm Any Room With Candlelight
The glancing of candlelight across a table and a grouping of votives or larger lanterns is a warm, romantic touch that appeals year-round. During the holidays, there are plenty of ways to ramp up the display.
Choose colorful votive holders in crystal or mercury glass for heightened effect because of their reflectivity. In addition, there are beautifully designed, shimmery Christmas trees that are molded candles with the flames at the tops.
Like old-fashioned little villages that entrance children, there are similar single houses or collections designed to be lit from within, as well as hurricane lamps of metal or porcelain with perforations for making light dance. A crafted quality is appealing.
And finally, there are the no-muss, no-fuss flameless candles, which are amazingly authentic looking, down to their real wax casings, some with gorgeous embellishments, like the white on cobalt damask design available at Brookstone.
(For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at email@example.com.)