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Holiday Decorating Tips From Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Millions of Christmas lights, hundreds of wreaths, thousands of ornaments and preparing a holiday feast for the masses may sound daunting, but the experts at Busch Gardens have Christmas decorating down to a science. Over the past ten years, the world’s most beautiful theme park has been transformed into Christmas Town™, one of the largest holiday displays in the country.
This year, more than 10 million lights – the most ever – will adorn nearly every building and tree in the 100-acre theme park. It takes a 100-person team thousands of hours to install and transform the park to a winter wonderland. More than 1,500 fresh-cut Christmas trees are placed throughout the park’s pathways and hills, 700 wreaths decorate doors and windows, and 20,000 ornaments are carefully placed on trees.
“Christmas is a magical time of year, and decorating your own home should be part of the festivities and fun,” said Peter Dunklee, senior leader of entertainment for Busch Gardens. “Imagine decorating a small city every year. That’s what we do to prepare the park for Christmas Town. Hopefully some of our easy lighting advice will take the stress out of decorating your home,” added Dunklee.
Dunklee and his team oversee the park’s transformation each holiday season. Here are their steps to alleviate Christmas light hanging hassles and get everyone on a path to holiday bliss.
Lighting Advice from the Christmas Town Team (CTT)
1. HOW MANY LIGHTS WILL I NEED?
Wire length is the key in this step. Christmas lights are traditionally categorized by the number of bulbs per strand, typically 50 to 100 per count. What is sometimes difficult to find is the length of the overall wire. Christmas lights are spaced six inches apart, which means the overall length is half as long as the quantity of bulbs. For example, a 100 count strand, with lights spaced six inches apart, will yield about 50 feet of lights. Ensure the spacing matches the area to be decorated by checking the lights’ packaging first.
For Christmas trees, the spacing is less important, and the amount of lights added is your preference. As a general rule, the CTT recommends a 100 count strand per foot of tree. An eight foot tree would require eight strands of 100 count lights.
2. DON’T TOSS A BURNED OUT STRAND OF LIGHTS.
One of the most frustrating things about hanging Christmas lights is the one burned out bulb that results in half a strand of lights in the dark. The best remedy for this is to take preventative measures. Always lay out Christmas lights when they are removed from storage, shake them a bit and look for any flickering. If flickering occurs, gently push each bulb back into the socket. This will reduce the chance of the bulbs loosening during the hanging process. Also look for darker bulbs with a burnt-out filament.
Many of today’s Christmas lights contain several circuits, meaning that a bulb will only make part of the strand go out which can help to pinpoint the location of the bad bulb. Most strands come with spare fuses and bulbs, but it’s a good idea to keep a strand of lights on hand just to use for spare bulbs. It is often cheaper than buying a box of bulbs.
3. ARE THERE ANY OTHER TIPS FOR CHECKING FOR BAD BULBS?
A bulb tester may be the next best step for your holiday decorating kit. Bulb testers detect changes in current and can help to pinpoint the general area of the bad light. As a general rule, consumer incandescent Christmas lights have a 3-year lifespan.
4. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO STORE LIGHTS?
Always coil the strand on the ground. Winding of strands and coiling them around your arm can cause internal breakage to the wires. The best way to store them is on a spool, which also makes the next year’s installation tangle-free. During the holidays, many companies sell spools custom-designed for Christmas lights, but a spool designed for electrical cable, a garden hose or even a 2 foot by 6 inch piece of cardboard to wrap around will work, too.
5. WILL WEATHER-RELATED ISSUES DAMAGE LIGHTS?
It is always important to use UL-listed outdoor-rated Christmas lights for outdoor applications. Most Christmas lights are relatively water-resistant, but problems typically arise if they get water inside the sockets and connectors, which often trips a breaker. A good preventive step is to wrap electrical tape over the female end on the back of the plug and connection points. This will help prevent water from seeping through to the electrical components. It is also a good idea to raise the connectors off the ground to avoid water saturation. The CTT uses wooden stakes to float the connectors off the ground to keep them dry.
6. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INDOOR AND OUTDOOR LIGHTS?
There is a definite difference between the two. Always check the rating on the lights tag, usually located by the plug. Lights listed for indoor-use are not designed for the outdoor elements, while outdoor lights are rated to withstand adverse weather conditions.
7. EFFICIENT WAYS TO USE LIGHT TIMERS.
Timers for Christmas lights come in many different types, but digital models seem to be the most reliable. In some cases, a grounded timer can handle the electrical requirements of light displays.
8. ARE THERE COST SAVINGS WITH LED LIGHTS?
Busch Gardens uses LED lights to decorate Christmas Town. LED lights are now considered the standard for today’s light technology. Energy savings is the big takeaway for LED lighting and on a large-scale installation, the savings can be evident.
In addition to being long-lasting and brighter than traditional incandescent lights, LED lights often have molded or screw-on tips which will reduce the chance of a bulb becoming loose.
9. HOW MANY STRANDS CAN SAFELY BE STRUNG TOGETHER?
Stringing strands together depends on several factors, including the number of lights, wire gauge, amount of power available among other things. It’s best to read the instructions on the Christmas light package for more information or call the manufacturer. The bottom line is to make it safe.
10. WHITE LIGHTS VS. COLORED LIGHTS
It all depends on your décor. For a more traditional Christmas look, white lights should be the first choice. Colored lights can give a more whimsical feel to a theme. Always remember, balance and detail are key with Christmas lights. Just because multi-colored lights are used, outlining a building and tree trimming still need to be done with precision.
Busch Gardens believes in “critical mass” or using a large quantity of items in a controlled area that is designed to give a sense of scale. For example, each area of the park has its own unique Christmas light color palate. Mixing colored and white lights can be confusing to the eye; however it can still be done. Decorators need to create balance and ensure the lights are hung in a specific way so the pattern makes sense. The park’s Polar Pathway is a great example of this technique, which is covered with more than two million white and blue lights, and trees covered in purple and teal. The color mixing is successful because of the separation of colors.
Christmas Town by the Numbers
- 10 MILLION Christmas lights
- 20,000 Christmas ornaments
- 1,500+ fresh-cut Christmas trees
- 900 window candles and luminaries
- 800 lit snowflakes and twinkling stars
- 700+ wreaths and artificial trees decorate inside areas, doors and windows
- 100-person decorating team,
- 10,000+ hours of decorating time
- 40 MILES of power cables
- 3 MILES of garland