Outdoor Christmas Lights Ideas & Tips For A Winter Wonderland

This winter try some different holiday outdoor lighting ideas to bring cheer to the neighborhood.

A lit up squirrel statue in the snow under a tree decorated with lights and ornaments
(Image credit: Helin Loik-Tomson / Getty Images)

The holidays are a time of celebration and decorating the home enhances the joyful feeling of the season. Ideas for outdoor Christmas lights have become more extravagant, with some homes so brightly lit they draw curious tourists. Holiday outdoor lighting ideas don’t have to be expensive but it’s great to show your creativity and bring magic to the festive season.

Bright Ideas for Outdoor Christmas Lights

For centuries it has been traditional to light up the home around the holidays. Candles used to be the decor, but today we can select LED lights with timers that are synchronized to music, blow-up displays, solar lights, and so much more. The availability of lighted home decor is only limited by how much you want to spend. Holiday outdoor lighting ideas take some planning and some supplemental items like extension cords and eave clips to make the display glow with ease.

Here are 10 bright ideas to get you inspired:

  1. Make Containers Shine - Creating wintry charm with outdoor decor brightens up the dark winter months. In northern climates it's a bit more difficult to use plants in containers as winter displays. But containers can hold purchased or made holiday figures. Wrap containers in festive linen or burlap, or decorate them with holiday bows. String a container with LED lights. Scatter evergreen boughs into the top of the container. Cut stems from holly or berry bushes to insert into the soil. Arrange candy canes around the perimeter. Buy solar lights on stakes and light up the site. Here are more ideas for lit-up holiday cheer.
  2. Line a Path with Luminaries - Luminaries are classic lighting methods that are inexpensive and easy to create. All you need are paper bags and a light source. While the traditional method is to use a candle which softly flickers through the paper, these could catch fire in windy areas. A safer method is to use LED or solar light inside the bags. In colder regions, try making ice luminaries. Line them along the driveway or path to the house for elegant, but simple holiday cheer. For added fun, have children decorate the bags.
  3. Brighten Up Borders with Rope Lights - Rope lights are extremely popular lighting since you can wind them around railings and garden items and surfaces. They can outline windows, define a path, wrap a street light or pole, or frame the front door. They are easy to set up, lightweight, and take little electricity to run.
  4. Hang a Star on Your Outdoor Trees - Stars are a classic symbol of the holidays and send a sparkling message while dangling in your trees. They may be purchased or made. Light-up or glowing stars are available at stores, or you can make your own with wire coat hangers, wire snips, tinsel, and a glue gun. To light up your homemade stars, zigzag a string of lights around them.
  5. Add Drama with “Up Lighting” - Up lighting highlights the object above it, drawing the eye and providing drama. Use lights set below the eye line to achieve the effect. Floodlights are useful to light up holiday decor on the lawn, and simple, smaller LEDs can illuminate a wreath on the door or other holiday touches.
  6. Warm Up Your LEDs - Most lights available these days are LEDs. They are great energy savers, fairly inexpensive and last a long time, but are fairly harsh on the eyes. For softer lighting look for a CRI or color rendering index. The higher the CRI, the warmer the light.
  7. Try Traditional Candles in the Windows - Candles are energy saving and lend a historic air to the holiday decor. Set candles in the windows for a welcoming touch that harkens back to our grandparent’s days. These can also be purchased as LEDs.
  8. Synchronize Lights to a Song - One really fun feature available these days is synchronized lights. There are systems that come preprogrammed with light effects and holiday music all controlled through an app. You can also make your own system with timers, a speaker system, or for you computer wizards, with a homemade program.
  9. Show Off Your Home’s Best Features - Holiday lighting can frame and romanticize areas of the home and outdoor spaces. Decorate windows, doors, eaves, and even fences to cheerily emphasize and outline your home and property.
  10. Embrace Whimsical Novelty Lights - Lighting is part of the fun, but the shape of the lights themselves can add to the whimsy. Snowflakes, reindeer, stars, and many other shapes are available in holiday lighting to personalize and elevate your displays.

Tips for Installing Outdoor Christmas Lights

Lights powered by electricity take some setting up. Clips, electrical tape, power strips, zip ties, extension cords, adaptors, and other items may be necessary. Think about what you will need before you start setting up.

Have a Plan

Making a plan will allow you to visualize your display and help ensure you have all the parts and tools necessary. It’s helpful to measure areas so you have enough extension cords and lights.

Get The Right Supplies

In addition to the decorations you will need a few other items.

  • Command strips, tape, nails, zip ties
  • Ladder
  • Extension cords
  • Timers
  • Different size clips
  • Electrical tape ( tape around the ends of the lights to prevent water entering)
  • Basic hand tools

Experts recommend shopping clearance sales after the holidays to get the best deals on lights and decor.

Know How Many Lights You Need

If you have a plan and measure in advance, you should have a rough idea of how long the strings of lights will need to be. For lighting something like a tree, LED lights are spaced 3 inches (7.5 cm) apart. Therefore, one string of 100 lights will go 25 feet (7.5 m).

Make Notes for Next Year

When packing everything away at the end of the season, take note of any broken items that need to be replaced. Make an inventory of everything in the storage bins. Consider whether you were short on power cords, lights, extra bulbs, or other items and make a note so you’ll be fully prepared next year.

Don’t Hold Onto Broken Lights

There is no point in hanging onto a string of lights that doesn’t work. Before throwing it out, check to make sure it doesn’t just need replacement bulbs. Older incandescent holiday lights are expensive to run, but some stores will offer rebates to exchange these for LED lights and update your decorations while saving some energy.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.