The Maverick Guide to Christmas Lighting


In the holiday classic “Christmas Vacation,” Chevy Chase’s character Clark “Sparky” Griswold is on a mission to complete the greatest Christmas light display of all time. The clumsy family man ends up high on a shaky ladder, with staple gun in hand, carefully stringing Christmas lights under the gutters of his suburban home.

Soon after beginning his quest for glory, Griswold accidentally staples his flannel sleeve to the house, then in an attempt to free himself, tears off his entire sleeve, flying backwards against a thick tree limb while gripping his ladder in terror.

While “Sparky” ends up completing his mission relatively unscathed, in reality someone like Griswold would probably wake up in a hospital bed in a full-body cast, drinking their meals through a straw. 

Don’t be like Clark Griswold. If you’re planning to impress the neighbors—or even your unworthy in-laws—make sure you have the proper plan and gear. Also, make sure your work environment is free from ice and snow so you can keep this Christmas free of unnecessary ambulance rides. 

Basic Tips 

Silver Bells Owner and Founder Chelsea Stevens has been in the home lighting business since 2015. The Nampa lighting guru knows a thing or two about making your holiday display worthy of neighborhood envy. 

“Invest in safety equipment and don’t install lights alone,” she said. 

In the planning stage, Stevens said, homeowners should try to combine lighting schemes with natural colors. 

“Most lighting is set up to look good after dark,” she said. “But combining greenery and lighting makes for a beautiful aesthetic for both day and night.” 

Stevens said when installing lights, homeowners should consider winter weather conditions like snow, which can wreak havoc on your Christmas canvas. 

“When you’re connecting lighting and extensions, think about snow sliding down the roof,” Stevens said. “Horizontally placed extension wires can be pulled down by snow, so it’s best to connect sections vertically when possible.” 

Essential Gear & Materials 

Hanging Partner: Don’t install Christmas lights alone like Sparky. Always work with a partner, willing or unwilling. A partner is essential for holding shaky ladders, managing tools and lights, and keeping an eye out for potential hazards. 

Tape Measure: Having a tape measure handy allows you to space lighting uniformly and measure how much lighting is needed in each area. 

Extension Cords: Since Christmas lights don’t run on holiday magic, they need electricity. Measure your decorating space and make sure you have extension cords long enough to reach a nearby power outlet. 

Ladder: Unless you live in a hobbit house, you probably can’t reach the roof, so ladders are a must. If you’re busting out an old ladder or borrowing one from the neighbor, make sure it’s in good condition so you don’t fall and color the snowy ground with festive red.  

Christmas Lights: There are several varieties of lights depending on what look you’re going for. In the 80’s, Griswold used the classic ¼-inch diameter, ⅝-inch tall Christmas string lights. But these days you have plenty of options. For a comprehensive list, Check out Home Stratosphere’s 29 Types of Christmas Lights for Your House

Plastic Clips & Hooks: Going the Griswold route with a staple gun may be quick and easy, but it will sure be a pain to pull out countless staples when your wife threatens divorce over light removal the following July. Plastic clips and hooks for lighting attach to gutter and roof shingles with ease and won’t drive a wedge between you and the Mrs. 

Staple Gun (Optional): I covered this bit in the previous paragraph. It’s a gun that applies staples. It’s your call whether to use this tool to install your magnum opus light display. 

Light Timer (Optional): Since you can read this sentence, you know what time the sun goes down. If remembering to plug and unplug the Christmas lights each solar cycle sounds awful, get a timer. They make timers you can control with an app, so you don’t even have to leave the lazyboy. 

Getting a Plan Together 

If you need help planning for things like the amount of electricity you’ll be using, how to use light clips, or decorative patterns, here are some planning resources to help take the load off of your shoulders:

Christmas Lights Etc: This site nearly covers it all: greenery decorations, energy usage and saving tips, light clips, a light variety visual guide, and even how to properly decorate your Christmas tree with holiday lights. This is a must-see for lighting newbies. 

Light-O-Rama: Wanting to go full Griswold with your lighting this year? Light-O-Rama is the premiere holiday lighting company offering the necessary hardware, software, and expertise to shock and awe not just the neighborhood, but the entire community.