A Guide to Outdoor Christmas Decoration Ideas

Winter scene at nighttime with snow, Christmas lights, and house.

The lights at night time are a big part of decorating for Christmas.  TOSHI SASAKI/Getty Images

Night time Winter Wonderlands Easy to Create

When decorating for most other holidays, we do not think of night time as prime time for our displays. For full impact, they require the light of day. But this rule does not hold true for outdoor Christmas decorations.

Because Christmas is a holiday of lights, there is no time like the night time to go out for a drive and check out how other people are decorating. It also does not take much imagination to create a winter wonderland on your own property, especially if you have a snowy backdrop with which to work. Design snobs may hate to admit it, but it’s relatively easy to create a great Christmas light display.

In the first few slides of this presentation; we will look at stellar examples of outdoor Christmas decorations that use lights. Later, we will move on to displays that some may prefer as being more “refined.” Along the way, prepare to be amazed by the myriad of opportunities that your garden presents you with for creative holiday decorating.

How Do You Prefer Your Reindeer Decorations?

Cutout Christmas display with reindeer pulling a sleigh, plus lights.

Santa’s reindeer pulling his sleigh is a classic Christmas scene.  Regula Heeb-Zweifel/Getty Images

Here’s another splendid night time scene for Christmas. Reindeer cut outs are pulling Santa’s sleigh. The sleigh is emphasized by virtue of having a spotlight shining on it. In the next slide, we will see a different kind of reindeer decoration.

Rudolph the Wired Reindeer

Reindeer pulling sleigh, both lighted, as a Christmas display.

A single reindeer pulls this sleigh, but sufficient lighting is used to make it show up.  Jack Lee / EyeEm/Getty Images

This type of reindeer ornament is made of wire and pre-lit. Even though it features a solitary reindeer pulling the sleigh, the sheer volume of lighting present gives this display a lot of pop.

No Time to Build a Snowman? Buy One!

Two wire snowmen lit up as Christmas decorations.

As with reindeer figures, snowmen made of wires are popular Christmas decorations.  Alexey Perminov / EyeEm/Getty Images

It can be rewarding to build your own snowman, even if you are an adult (who is young at heart). But what if you have no desire to do so (or lack the necessary snow)? The snowmen in this picture are made of wires that come with lights already on them (as did the reindeer in the previous slide).

You Don’t Need Evergreen Trees to Have a Great Winter Landscape

Trees lighted up with blue Christmas lights and a lit star in orange.

Deciduous trees can also be strung with Christmas lights, just as evergreen trees.  TOSHI SASAKI/Getty Images

Winter landscapes are lovely, including Christmas scenes. The plants that you have growing in your garden can make a big difference, supplementing the visual interest you achieve through outdoor Christmas decorations. When you think of great plants for winter landscapes, what may come to mind first are evergreens, such as the most famous plants in the Christmas tradition.

But do not think that deciduous trees and shrubs are useless for Christmas decorating. In this picture the homeowners have decorated deciduous trees with blue Christmas lights to create a night time holiday scene with the same magic as we saw in the first slide.

Install Luminaries to Punch Up Your Walkway

Christmas scene with snow, house, and luminaries lighting a path.

Luminaries are small, simple decorations that can have a big impact.  Jeff Schultz / Design Pics/Getty Images

For a holiday that is supposed to be about love, harmony, and joy, Christmas is remarkably fraught with tension when it comes to the decorations people use to celebrate it. Readers over the years have communicated just how passionately folks disagree with each other on this topic. If you haven’t already, start paying more attention to the different types of ornaments homeowners commonly use in their gardens in December. Pay special attention to the decorations of a more subtle, understated nature. The latter are so different from the showier displays that — if one did not know better — one would think that they were decorations for an entirely different holiday.

While most everyone agrees that outdoor Christmas decorations should be colourful (the raison d’etre of a decoration is to show up), there is vehement disagreement over how far one should go in attempting to create a colourful display. Opinions fall largely into two groups, “the exuberant camp” and “the tasteful camp”:

    • The exuberant camp says, “The more the merrier” and exercises little restraint.
    • To which the tasteful camp replies (while raising a contemptuous eyebrow), “It’s possible to have too much of a good thing.”

So far in this photo gallery we have been looking at outdoor Christmas decorations showing examples from the exuberant side, although nothing as gaudy as is represented by the inflatable Christmas decorations, which are a delight for children but which some adults find anathema.

In the next several slides, let’s look at examples of some of the kinds of more subtle Christmas decorations championed by the tasteful camp, beginning with the picture on the present page. Here we see a walkway leading to a front door lighted with simple luminaries. Thanks to the presence of snow in this scene, the luminaries are sufficient to turn this night time landscape into a winter wonderland.

Alberta Spruce Dwarfs the Competition at the Front Door

Alberta spruce trees decorated for Christmas and flanking a front door with wreaths.

Dwarf Alberta spruce trees are commonly used just as they are used here: to flank a front door.  Ellen Rooney/Getty Images

In the North, few trees are used to landscape an entryway as extensively as are dwarf Alberta spruces. They are slow-growing and can be grown in containers (as here) for years.

This scene is dominated by symmetry, which was probably suggested by the double doors. Each door has a Christmas wreath. The matching dwarf Alberta spruce trees simply continue the theme of symmetrical balance.

Grow an Outdoor Christmas Tree and Decorate It

Couple with a ladder decorating an outdoor Christmas tree in a snowy landscape.

With an evergreen like spruce in the garden, you can also decorate a Christmas tree outdoors to celebrate the season (this one’s a bit too close to the house, though).  Westend61/Getty Images

We usually think of an indoor setting when mention is made of decorating Christmas trees. But if you are lucky enough to be growing an evergreen tree such as a Colorado blue spruce out in the garden, why not attach ornaments to it for the holiday season?

Take Advantage of Trees With Horizontal Branching

Christmas ball ornaments hanging from a dogwood tree.

Dogwoods tend to have horizontal branches that are excellent for hanging Christmas ornaments from.  David Beaulieu

Some trees have branches that grow in a more horizontal pattern than is the norm. One example is the dogwood tree. These homeowners have seized the opportunity to decorate the limbs of a dogwood with classy Christmas ornaments.

Add an Unusual Touch to a Christmas Window Box

Window box decorated for Christmas with bow, ornaments, winterberry and lotus pods.

It’s the lotus pods that make this Christmas window box unusual, although the winterberries are more eye-catching.  David Beaulieu

The little things can often make a difference when designing a small decoration. The homeowners managed to stuff a lot into this festive Christmas window box, but mere quantity will never earn high praise for such a container. There’s only so much room here, and no matter how much you try to pack in, it will never be enough to impress if quality is lacking.

That’s why an unusual creative touch can make such a difference in a window box. Can you pick out the unusual element in this design? Do you see the four brownish objects? Those are lotus pods, which can be bought at craft stores such as Joanne’s.

The colour, though, is provided primarily by the bright red berries of winterberry holly.

You may be more familiar with window boxes containing annuals, where live plantings of bright flowers provide the colour. This won’t do during a Northern winter, obviously. So, for Christmas decorating, window boxes will rely on evergreen boughs, ribbons, ornaments, etc.

Inject Some Swag Into Your Entryway

Door decorated for Christmas with swags and a wreath.

Why stop with a wreath when you can decorate your door at Christmastime with swags, too?  Jeff Oshiro/Getty Images

The door wreath here is rather plain, so the designers of this display decided to add a door swag for additional interest.

Garlands: a Christmas Classic

Couple hanging garlands on a house with a ladder for Christmas.

Christmas garlands are versatile decorations, usable on houses, fences, arbours, etc.  Jodi Jacobson/Getty Images

Evergreen garlands, even if only lightly decorated, can add significant interest to a front door design for the holidays. They can cover a lot of space and are flexible enough to be easily maneuverered. Read my article to learn how to hang a garland around a door.

People also use garlands on fences (often composed of faux evergreens), as in the following picture: Christmas Garlands on Fence.

The versatility of garlands for Christmas decorating is impressive. In addition to hanging them around doorways or on fences, here are some other possible uses:

Get Your Red and Green On

Columns with garlands and urns with Christmas decorations flanking a front door with a wreath.

A great way to decorate a front door at Christmas is to flank it with urns and fill them with the colours of the season.  David Beaulieu

This display does a nice job of working in the two primary colours of Christmas: red and green. The homeowner is off to a head start by virtue of having a red front door, of course.

The colour, green is furnished by the wreath and by the garlands on the porch columns. A separate photo gallery showing examples of how greenery is used in Christmas decorations is provided for those in search of further ideas.

Red is worked into the design via the berries on the wreath and the ribbons and red branches in the urns. Those branches come from a shrub called “red-twig dogwood.” Stems of pussy willow have also been used in the urns, but these are of value mainly for up-close viewing (they do not show up well enough to have much of an impact from the street).

Red and green, after all, are the Christmas colours, par excellence. Nor is there anything arbitrary about red being a preferred colour for the holiday. Think about it: What is the colour, red, beyond all else? It is a born attention grabber.

Red is festive, which a Christmas decoration — by definition — is supposed to be. But red is also loud, meaning it has the potential to descend into garishness. Since we are now discussing tasteful Christmas garden decorations, specifically, we must then ask a question: Does this display pass the test of being colourful yet still tasteful?

It does, because the red colour is furnished by something natural (namely, red-twig dogwood branches), and those who crave tasteful decorations almost always find natural materials acceptable. A huge inflatable of Santa Claus decked out in this red suit would be another matter altogether.

Also commonly found as a Christmas decoration for urns are white decorative branches. They are sometimes available in craft stores and garden centres. You can also make your own. Red provides a more Christmassy look, though. Moreover, in a scene with a lot of snow, or where the backdrop is a white house (as is the case here), white simply doesn’t stand out as well as red.

Hang a Fruit Fan Over Your Doorway

Fruit (apples and a pineapple) displayed over a doorway as an outdoor Christmas decoration.

The pineapple in this fruit ensemble is a traditional symbol of welcome, while the apples inject a Christmas colour into the display.  Kelly/Mooney Photography/Getty Images

“Fruit fans” are a great for bringing Christmas cheer to the outdoors through the artful use of colourful-but-classy decorations. They look especially good when decorating a pediment. The house in the example pictured here does not have a pediment — the arrangement has simply been attached above the door — but the decoration still works as a means of injecting colour into the front door entrance.

Note that the pineapple has long been a symbol of welcome. Decorative pineapples are also used in this way at gate entrances.

Want to put together your own fruit fan? Before purchasing faux fruit for a decorating project such as this one, make sure that the product is designated for outdoor use. The product you want will be coated to protect it. Read the package (or online specs if you’re shopping on the web) and look for wording such as “weatherproof” or “weather-resistant.”

Decorate Outside With a Festive Christmas Sled

Sled decorated with ribbons and evergreens and propped against a house as a Christmas decoration.

Old children’s sleds have become valued as Christmas decorations.  Ambre Haller/Getty Images

It’s natural enough to associate the classic children’s sled with Christmas. The type most commonly encountered as a tasteful decorative element is perhaps the Flexible Flyer sled. The one in this picture, however, appears to be considerably older (the homeowners may have bought it in an antique store).

In colder regions, there’s often snow on the ground at holiday time, and legions of kids can be seen gleefully sliding down hillsides. Furthermore, many of you may even remember waking up one Christmas morning as a child to find a Flexible Flyer amidst the other gifts under the tree. That was one year when Santa Claus knew you had been nice, not naughty.

Given this strong Yuletide association, it’s hardly surprising that Flexible Flyers and other sleds have also become outdoor Christmas ornaments. People festoon them with appropriate decorations, such as the evergreens and the silk red poinsettia flowers here.

Tasteful Reindeer Decorations

Elegant reindeer figures and artificial Christmas trees with ribbons form a tasteful Christmas lawn display.

Elegant reindeer figures and artificial Christmas trees with ribbons form a tasteful Christmas lawn display.  David Beaulieu

Who would deny that the reindeer ornaments in this scene are more tasteful than those pictured earlier in the gallery?

Large Nutcracker Christmas Decorations for Outdoors

Nutcracker figures stand sentinel in front of a door decorated with a Christmas wreath.

Nutcracker figures stand sentinel at this colorful entry.  David Beaulieu

Large Nutcracker Christmas decorations dominate this outdoor display. The toy soldiers are striking, but one would hardly call these ornaments restrained or subtle.

So, the question is, Do the Nutcracker figures cross the line in the quest for Christmas colour? Are they a bit too jarring for the tastes of the tasteful camp?

While opinions may be divided on this display, here a few arguments for putting the “tasteful” stamp of approval on this colourful ensemble:

    • Wooden Nutcracker figures like this are not dirt-common, as are, say, those omnipresent inflatables.
    • Wood is valued as a natural material.
    • The figures are well put-together, exhibiting quality workmanship.
    • Those in the tasteful camp tend to be lovers of high culture, and what could be more highbrow than the inspiration behind these toy-soldier figures, the ballet,?

The most refined segment of the tasteful camp might shy away from the display on the grounds that it is slightly too edgy. But I think the majority would agree with most of the arguments advanced above and welcome this unusual arrangement with open arms. Arguably, it passes the test of being colourful yet still tasteful.

Porch Columns Decorated With Christmas Gift Boxes

Porch columns wrapped with a decoration that makes them look like Christmas presents.

Wrapping garlands around porch columns is so trite compared to this unusual treatment.  David Beaulieu

In the prior slide, it was nutcracker figures that provided a symmetrical design. In the example pictured above, the homeowners didn’t have to go out of their way to achieve symmetry — it was already there, in the form of a pair of porch columns. All the homeowners had to do was figure out a creative way to decorate them for Christmas.

These ornaments are very unusual and may not be easy to purchase. One can only assume that the gift boxes open up so that they can be wrapped around a porch column. They’re clearly not the same as the Christmas-present ornaments more commonly displayed on lawns.

Adorn Your Fence With a Wreath

Wooden fence decorated with a Christmas wreath.

Wreaths are not just for doors: This one dresses up a rustic fence.  Design Pics Inc/Getty Images

Be ready to take advantage of any suitable component in your landscaping when it comes to finding places to decorate for Christmas. This rather plain fence has been turned into a nice wreath-holder.

Hedge Your Bets

Hedge covered in frost, with other plants decorated for Christmas.

If you can’t have snow, frost is the next best thing to inject holiday spirit into a scene.  Clive Nichols/Getty Images

These homeowners have grown an assortment of small trees in back of their row of hedge plants and decorated them for Christmas with ribbons. The frost on the whole ensemble adds nicely to the festive feel; snow would be even better.

Christmas in the Tropics

Palm trees and house lit up for Christmas.

Palm trees may not elicit thoughts of Christmas the way snow does, but the Christmas lights make this a festive scene.  Mitch Diamond/Getty Images

No Northerner would associate palm trees with Christmas. Yet the designer here has created a restrained but impactful holiday statement.

Light Up Your Foundation Planting

Christmas lights decorating a shrub with snow.

The snow makes the Christmas lights on this shrub even more effective.  Stuart Westmorland/Getty Images

Don’t forget your shrubs when you consider hanging Christmas lights in the garden. If you have planted bushes along a wall of your house (a so-called “foundation planting”), then you have a particularly good opportunity in this regard. Don’t waste it: Enliven the shrubs with colourful Christmas lights. If snow falls on the shrubs, they may look even better, since the lights illuminate the snow and give it interesting colours (as in this photo).

Decorate for the Nativity in Style

Well-made figurines forming a Nativity display.

The figurines in this Nativity scene are well-made.  Religious Images/UIG/Getty Images

Since Christmas is, of course, a religious holiday in origin, outdoor Nativity scenes are a natural as lawn decorations during December. The figurines in this one is especially well-made.

Display a Holly Basket on Your Porch

Holly in a basket as an outdoor Christmas decoration.

Put holly in a basket as an outdoor Christmas decoration for a porch.  Lynne Brotchie/Getty Images

Holly shrubs have long been associated with this time of year, as is demonstrated by the lyrics of such classic songs as. A wreath made from its sprigs gives a different look from that offered by the more typical needled-evergreen wreaths, while still remaining suitably Christmassy. It can also be used to decorate a lamppost.

These homeowners have simply arranged some in a basket, adding pinecones for variety. You should acquaint yourself with the process of wiring pinecones if you have any interest in Christmas crafts.

Continue below:

Santa’s Sleigh as a Christmas Lawn Decoration

Red sleigh used as a Christmas lawn ornament.

This red sleigh needs little ornamentation to serve as a Christmas lawn ornament.  David Beaulieu

This Christmas lawn decoration offers the best of both worlds. It’s tasteful, but it’s also bright and in-your-face Christmassy. Who wouldn’t want a marvellous piece like this at their disposal to bring visual interest to the winter holiday garden?

Incidentally, there is an interesting connection between Santa’s sleigh and the early American author, Washington Irving, who, of course, is best known for Rip van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It seems Irving had a lot to do with our modern conception of a jolly old elf driving a sleigh bearing holiday gifts. Who knew?

Lovers of exuberant Christmas decorations may be left unsatisfied by an empty sleigh. “Where’s Santa to drive the sleigh, the reindeer to pull it, etc.?” they may well be wondering upon viewing this picture. Those of you in the exuberant camp will prefer this Christmas sleigh scene.

By David Beaulieu