How to Decorate Your Home for the Holidays (According to the Movies)

Welcome to the second entry in FSR’s Official Cinematic Holiday Survival Guide – the best series of nostalgic holiday articles on the Internet today that were conceived of by a film writer too sleep-deprived to properly articulate just why that squirrel jumping out of the tree in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the finest moment in Christmas filmology. Which FSR writer? I’ll never tell. But it wasn’t me.

That said, today I will reach back into the far, far annals of movie history to provide you dear readers with some of the finest holiday decorating tips you will ever see committed to celluloid (and, well, the Internet). I will not provide specific crafting tips (because, let’s be real here, I could really injure myself with a hot glue gun), but more general tips that will allow you to tap into your personal style to gussy up your home to truly epic proportions. Or, you could just slide down to your neighborhood tree lot and pick up a flocked tree and just be done with it. But, before you get your flock on, let’s take a peek at some cinematic dos and don’ts when it comes to decking your halls.

1. Don’t Overdo It on the Outdoor Decorations (Unless You Hate Your Neighbors)

Without a doubt, the biggest misconception about holiday decorating is that bigger is better. Bigger is not better. Bigger is just more obnoxious. The obsession with going “bigger” and a preponderance for one-upmanship leave us with such cinematic gross-outs (and not in the traditional sense) as 2006’s Deck the Halls, a film that no one needs to have seen to know exactly what it’s about. The film stars Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick as dueling neighbors who escalate their feud to giant proportions when they engage in an all-out war to see who can decorate their home most insanely for the holidays. Guess what, dudes? This is not a “green” choice, and it’s bad for both the environment and your pocketbooks. Also, I think the moral of the film was just that everyone ended up looking like a douche-nozzle, and that’s just not fun any time of the year.

Of course, balls-out holiday decorating is good for a few laughs – I would be positively remiss to not point readers to the directions of everyone’s favorite decorating-gone-wrong sequence, THIS ONE from. Do you see the difference? The Griswolds’ neighbors National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation are yuppie jerks who end up getting blasted by Clark’s display, they’re not the reason for the electrical eye-massacre, and that makes their reactions and fall-out that much sweeter. And why does Clark want to deck his house out so intensely? Because he wants to make his family happy, not because he wants to stick it to Elaine and David Duchovny lite. Aw, Sparky.

2. Make The Most of What You’ve Got

While A Charlie Brown Christmas exemplifies this next tip philosophically, Love Actually answers it in a practical manner. Charlie Brown and his little fir Christmas tree are a classic example of making do with what you’ve got – and learning a lot from it. Charlie and his scrawny tree are an instantly recognizable symbol of pausing the holiday hubbub to be happy for what you have (even if you pick it out just so that you can impart that message to, I don’t know, your present-obsessed dog or similar).

Meanwhile, Love Actually provides what is likely the only tip in this entire guide that could lead to something resembling in-home crafting! That card garland! How delightful! Yet, rest assured, there is a deeper meaning here. In that delightful card garland scene, Hugh Grant (as the prime minister) has finally realized his love for his charming employee (played by the gorgeous Martine McCutcheon), thanks to – what’s that? a holiday card she sent him? no way! And how perfect is it that, when Grant arrives at McCutcheon’s bustling family home, they’ve got scads of cards hanging from their walls, a tiny callback to what has driven him there in the first place? That’s making the most of what you’ve got.

3. Follow Your Own Style Cues

It’s holiday movie confession time – I am one of the few people who a) loves movies and b) loves Christmas who has c) no affection for A Christmas Story. I know, I know, it’s like a weird Venn diagram with a center section that only incorporates about five or so people. It’s not that I dislike the film, I just didn’t grow up with it, so while it’s a necessary part of most people’s holiday movie-viewing, it’s not a part of mine. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it for one its most iconic items, a true testaments to the versatility of holiday decorating. You know what I’m talking about – the leg lamp.

Darren McGavin’s Mr. Parker famously wins the leg lamp in a contest, where it’s billed as “a major award.” Like most men, he wants to display it prominently. Like most women, his wife violently opposes such a display, especially during the holidays. Breakage ensues. But while the leg lamp is a source of debate (and, again, breakage), it does teach us a lesson: follow your own style cues when decorating for the holidays. The lamp made the Old Man happy – and who cares about good taste when true happiness (that rare bird) shows up during the holidays? Interestingly enough, these days it’s bizarrely easy to procure a leg lamp replica for holiday display, thus guaranteeing that more couples will fight over whether or not the gam will get lit. Sorry to anyone who doesn’t like the lamp, but if someone you love wants to put it up, let ‘em! The holidays are about expression and love, what better way to exhibit both those things than by allowing everyone in the house to show off their own unique styles?

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment (Especially If You’re Celebrating in a Foreign Country)

It was bad enough that the McCallister clan left young Kevin all alone in American suburbia while they whooped it up on their dazzling French Christmas vacation, but what was truly unforgivable was that Kevin didn’t get to experience the amazing white Christmas tree his family put up in Paris. Where in the heck the Home Alone family found a tree in a foreign country, complete with matching blue lights and ornaments, is a mystery we will never know the answer to. How they all knew to wrap presents to also match is an even greater mystery, but that doesn’t change the fact there’s still a lesson to be learned here: don’t be afraid to experiment (especially if you’re in a foreign country).

The French McCallister tree is hideous, and it looks like a tremendous fire hazard, but it goes right along with the family’s somewhat offbeat choice to get the hell away from the norm for their holidays. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and color outside the lines when it comes to your holiday decorations – the worst thing that could happen is that you launch a decorating attack that ends up magnificently ugly for just one year, a mistake you’ll never repeat again. At the very least, no decorating mistake could be quite as bad as the life mistake of leaving one of your kids home alone for the holidays. It’s all perspective.

5. Don’t Stress Out If You Can’t Find All Your Decorations

Thomas Bezucha’s The Family Stone is one of those wacky family holiday oh-ho-ho-it’s-all-going-to-hell disaster movies that gets some real short shrift – make no mistake, I love this movie and I wish it got more credit (it’s sort of like my holiday answer to Elizabethtown!). Since it’s been left out in the metaphorical movie cold, I won’t spoil the ending here – but the final scenes of The Family Stone teach us one very important lesson: don’t stress out if you can’t find all your decorations. The members of the family Stone crack into a Christmas without their family stockings, but look how happy they all are! And they’re together! Stockings be damned! Put the oranges into socks and be done with it!

6. Make Decorating a Family Affair

No matter how bad things got for George Bailey in It’s  A Wonderful Life, when he arrives home to find his entire family hard at work decorating their abode, it provides a brief moment of respite for both him and the audience. While it may take George a while to learn the rest of his lessons in Frank Capra‘s classic film, and while there’s a big, decked out party in the middle of the film that could also provide lots of practical decorating advice, this little scene gracefully illuminates the most important lesson at all – make decorating a family affair.

Happy decorating! Be sure not to electrocute yourselves!

Read along for the rest of the entries in our 2011 Holiday Survival Guide.

Kate is an entertainment and culture writer and editor living in New York City. She is also a contributing writer for VanityFair.com, Cosmopolitan.com, RollingStone.com, Vulture, MTV.com, Details.com, The Dissolve, Screen Crush, New York Daily News, Mental Floss, and amNY. Her previous work can also be found at MSN Movies, Boxoffice Magazine, and Film.com. She lives her life like a French movie, Steve.

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