Halloween Decorating: Lights, Graveyard, Action!

Half Moon Bay's "Queen of Halloween" dispenses some practical tips on transforming your abode for the holiday.

This week I’m going to share some decorating tips that will work for your Halloween celebration, no matter what the theme. If you’re going to go to the effort of decking out your yard for Halloween, I say do it sooner rather than later so you’ll have time to enjoy the end result. Possibly the only exception to this rule is carving pumpkins. That’s definitely a last-minute item. Last year I started seeing decorations going up the first week of October, which seems about right. Any earlier, and your neighbors will probably think you’ve gone goth.

My favorite tool for decorating outdoors is light strings, hands down. They’re generally inexpensive, they store easily, and they can automatically transform any space into a spooky wonderland. A disadvantage to decorating exclusively with light strings is during the day your house won’t look like much, but just wait ‘til nightfall.

Lights require a bit of planning ahead. If you’re going to string them all over your bushes, you’ll probably want to break out the hedge trimmers first. Even brand new light strings require a test run. Try them out in a convenient socket before spending any time artfully coiling them around a bush or a tree, only to find you have a dud on your hands (save those receipts). Do your fine-tuning at dusk or later — that’s when you’ll spot any black holes in your handiwork. For a new perspective, get as far away as possible from your house and look back at it. Perhaps you’ll spot some corner of your yard that’s just screaming for a little LED enchantment.

I’ve found plenty of other interesting places to put lights. A few years back I found an especially disgusting string of lights with covers shaped like severed fingers and toes. I display it on the kitchen counter inside our blender (after unplugging it and shoving a piece of foil down in there to protect the cord from the blades). I guess the fun will be over if someone ever requests a margarita on Halloween; so far the issue has never come up.

I’m not a big fan of battery-operated lights. They require too much babysitting. But for certain things, they’re essential. My daughter has a cardboard Halloween playhouse that I installed strings of eyeball lights on (the battery packs are stashed in the “chimney”).

You might want to line the path to your door with luminarias (basically flame-resistant lunch bags with holes cut in them). They’re designed to hold tealight candles, but I’m more comfortable with those flickering battery-operated tealights, what with them being in the path of sugar-addled trick-or-treaters and all.

Once you get into decorating with lights, putting them up gets easier from one holiday to the next. We have hooks in the ceiling for our three sets of nightclub-grade black lights, cords with multiple outlets snaking around the yard, and a remote control to get the whole thing up and running with the push of a button. Indoors there are tiny cup hooks concealed everywhere. As quickly as a light string can be uncoiled, it can be hung. When cup hooks aren’t feasible, monofilament is great for invisibly tying lights along anything that will stand still.

Always keep a supply of extra batteries, light bulbs, power strips, outlet adapters, etc. on hand. Thankfully, our neighbors own Strawflower Electronics. One time we threw a party and shortly before guests started to arrive an essential light bulb blew at the top of the stairs leading up to the “Karaoke Lounge.” If it wasn’t for our neighbors having a supply of every bulb imaginable on hand, dozens of drunks might have missed that top step. I still have nightmares about the direction that evening could have gone.

Bear in mind, Coastside weather is rough on outdoor decorations. I wonder if the damp, drippy fog has anything to do with the popularity of Styrofoam headstones around these parts?

Faux graveyards can really be a hit with the older trick-or-treaters, but they were ruined for me as a child. There was one house in our neighborhood which was a real showstopper; it looked like a Hollywood movie set. I can remember tentatively walking up the path with my mom, treat bag at the ready. When we got to the porch, the owners were smugly presiding over their superior yard.

One of them acidly said “Oh, we aren’t actually giving out treats.”  The other chimed in and said “Our yard itself is the treat.” Can you imagine?! If the phrase “WTF?” had been invented yet, I’d have used it. And if I’d been a different sort of kid, I’d have trashed that place. My guess is some kids who WERE that sort of kid probably egged the bejeezus out of it, because I never saw so much as a Jack-o’-lantern in that yard in subsequent years. Who knew holidays other than Christmas could have Scrooges?

When it’s all over, take your outdoor decorations down in an expeditious fashion: Halloween decorations just look tired, inappropriate, and sad the day after. Especially those fake cobwebs! Wait a week, and real ones will start blending with them. Also, the late-autumn sun will do a number on your light strings; orange and purple will fade to uninspired shades of brown and pink in short order. Don’t toss those old light strings; recycle them. Reclaim your clean slate and start thinking about how you’re going to decorate for Thanksgiving and beyond.

A picture’s worth a thousand words. I hope you enjoy the photos of our decorations, and if you have any questions about how something was made or where something came from, please write to me in the comments. I want to hear your decorating tricks, too.

Check back next Friday, when I’ll have some ideas for food and drinks worthy of your Halloween feast. To read my previous articles about the history of how my Halloween tradition got started, click to read more about the history of The Eye Ball and to read more about getting your home Halloween-ready.

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Stephen D Kruger October 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM
Awesome! Can't wait to see the practical application on Halloween!
Denise Delaney October 18, 2011 at 06:38 AM
Speaking of practical, I think we should discuss a reprise of your "bouncer" costume!


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