Christmas Lights and Candles Christmas Lights and Candles

In our modern world of streetlamps, stores that are open until midnight, and the constant glow of the television, it's hard to remember that Christmas falls when it does in part as a way of breaking up the darkness of winter. Back in the old days, by late December everyone was chafing against the days getting shorter and shorter, the nights longer and longer, with nary a halogen desk lamp in sight.

Hence, filling the home and the street with lights at Christmastime became increasingly popular.

Now, as another historical note, when I was a kid the most popular kind of lights were the big-bulb multi-colored ones, which didn't really have much class, but sure prettied up the living room. And then the little white lights came into vogue, and anyone who thought she had some "design sense" threw out the multi-colored bulbs and took to draping the tree with the tiny white ones.

First, the use of candles has made a big resurgence. Of course, before there was electricity, Christmas trees were decorated with candles, but there were also more house fires back then. We don't recommend installing candles on the tree itself, but placing white candles in votive cups and arranging them on the table will lend your holiday home an air that's both festive and a bit old-world.

For a traditional holiday look, you can nestle a fat white or red candle in the center of a small evergreen wreath. But for an updated look, several home-furnishing catalogues and stores now offer miniature decorative garlands that you can wind around the bases of the candleholders, without risking a conflagration on Christmas Eve. These come in a variety of styles, from red beads that look like berries to a silvery strand of stars.

  • Tip: For a quick, inexpensive festive look, try pouring a layer of raw cranberries into a shallow bowl. Then nestle several white votive candles among the cranberries. Trim the edge of the bowl with greenery - ivy, or bay leaves, or pine.

Candles are most effective as a decorative ploy when grouped together. If you're decorating for a party, try putting a candle group on the side tables or coffee tables where you want people to gather; this will help pull people away from the kitchen so they can enjoy your living room.

When you're using a collection of candles, try varying one or two aspects of the candles. For example, have a collection of white candles, but vary the height and width of the candles. Or, have a row of candle holders, all the same height, with a row of candles in rainbow colors. As with any collection, an uneven number will give the best look.

Oil lamps are another way of using light that provides an elegant note, and they're not difficult to use. There are many oil lamps on the market that are formed in an elegant, clear glass, and they are usually sold with the proper oil.

One note if you are decorating with candles: in order to have them achieve their full effect, you must dim the electric lights in the room. Nothing says "tacky" quite like a beautiful display of candles in a fully-lit room. You want to have enough candles so that their light is actually used. Unless you're planning an event at which people have to read out loud, don't be afraid to turn off most - or with enough candles, all - the lights. Pure candlelight creates a festive, magical mood.

To play up the effect of the candle light, add some decorative items that will catch the light. You can find "scatter crystals" to spread across the tablecloth, and crystal garlands to drape on the tree or twirl around the votives on a coffee table.

You'll find that once you start looking for candles and oil lamps, there are a plentitude from which to choose - and they'll all brighten up your home for the holidays.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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