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10 holiday decorating tips from experts at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

by Brittani Tuttle

Hundreds of wreaths, thousands of ornaments, millions of Christmas lights, and preparing a holiday feast for guests might sound challenging, but the experts at Busch Gardens Williamsburg have gotten holiday decorating down to a science. 

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Check out these 10 tips to help make your holiday decorating a little easier.

Over the past 10 years, the Virginia theme park has been transformed into Christmas Town, one of the largest holiday displays in the U.S.

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This year, over 10 million lights will shine on almost every building and tree in Busch Gardens Williamsburg. It takes a 100-person team thousands of hours to install these lights and transform the park. Over 1,500 fresh-cut Christmas trees are place throughout the park; 700 wreaths decorate doors and windows; and 20,000 ornaments are placed with care on the 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.”

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Check out these 10 tips to help you with your Christmas light hanging hassles this holiday season, straight from the experts at Busch Gardens Williamsburg:

1. How many lights will I need?

Wire length is key! Christmas lights are usually categorized by the number of bulbs per strand, which is about 50-100 per count. What is often difficult, however, is to find the length of the overall wire. 

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Christmas lights are spaced six inches apart, which means the overall length is half as long as the number of bulbs. For example, a 100-count strand, with lights spaced six inches apart, will result in about 50 feet of lights. Make sure the spacing matches the area you want to decorate by checking the lights’ packaging first.

For Christmas trees, the spacing is less important, and the amount of lights you use is up to you. As a general rule, its recommended to use a 100-count strand per each 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 parts of hanging Christmas lights is that one burned-out bulb that leads to half a strand of lights going dark. The best way to avoid this is by taking preventative measures. Always lay out your lights when you remove them from storage, shake them a bit and look for any flickering. 

If flickering occurs, gently push each bulb back into the socket. This will help reduce the chance of bulbs loosening during the hanging process. Also, keep an eye our for darker bulbs with a burnt-out filament.

Many of today’s modern Christmas lights contain several circuits, which means that a bulb will only make part of the strand go out – which can help you find the location of the bad bulb. Most strands come with spare fuses and bulbs, but it’s always a good idea to keep a strand of lights on-hand just to use for spare bulbs. It’s often cheaper to do this rather than buy a box of replacement bulbs.

3. Are there any other tips for checking bad bulbs?

A bulb tester might be a good addition to your holiday decorating kit. Bulb testers can detect changes in current and can help to pinpoint the general area of the bad light. As a rule incandescent holiday 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 will make next year’s installation a little easier and 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’s always important to use UL-listed, outdoor-rated Christmas lights for outside decorating. Most lights are relatively water-resistant, but issues usually come up if they get water inside the sockets and connectors, which can often trip a breaker. 

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A good preventative step is to wrap electrical tape over the female end on the back of the plug and connection points. This will keep water from seeping through to the electrical components. It’s also a good idea to raise the connectors off the ground to avoid water saturation. You can use wooden stakes for this.

6. What’s the difference between indoor and outdoor lights?

There’s definitely a difference between the two. Always check the rating on the lights tag, usually found by the plug. Lights made for indoor use are not designed for the outside elements, while outdoor lights are rated to withstand adverse weather conditions.

7. Efficient ways to use light timers

Timers for holiday lights come in many different types, but digital models seem to be the most reliable. In some cases, though, a grounded timer can handle the electrical requirements of light displays.

8. Are there cost savings with LED lights?

Busch Gardens Williamsburg uses LED lights to decorate Christmas Town. These are now considered the standard for today’s light technology. LED lights offer great energy savings, and when used on a larger scale, these savings are quite evident.

In addition to lasting longer than traditional incandescent lights, LED lights often have molded or screw-on tips, which will reduce the chance of a bulb coming loose.

9. How many strands can safely be strung together?

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This depends on many factors, including the number of lights, wire gauge, amount of power available, and other things. The best thing to do is read the instructions on the lights’ packaging for more information or call the manufacturer. The most important thing is to keep it safe.

10. White lights vs. colored lights

It all depends on your other decorations! For a classic holiday look, white lights should be your first choice. Colored lights give off a more whimsical vibe. Keep in mind, though, that balance and detail are key with holiday lights. Just because multi-colored lights are used, outlining a building and trimming a tree still need to be done with precision and care.

We hope these tips help make it easier for you to deck the halls this holiday season! How are you planning to decorate for the holidays? Let us know in the comments below!

To learn more about Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, visit BuschGardens.com/Williamsburg.

Check out our videos from Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Williamsburg below:

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Christmas Town Express - Full Ride at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Santa's Workshop during Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
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