On cold December nights in Fremont, Neb., a glowing white figure rises above the treetops. Her robe sparkles in the darkness. Her halo shimmers. Stretching 36 feet into the sky, she's the tallest Christmas decoration most people have ever seen.
She might be the most expensive, too, at a price that could buy a luxury car. But to Debbie Durham, 58, who had the towering angel designed for her yard, it's more than just a lawn ornament.
"The first angel I ever put up was above my garage," Durham says. "I was having health concerns and it was after my divorce. It was like this angel, she was embracing me every time I came home." As the frenzied commercial holiday season gets under way, visions of inflatable snowmen and mechanical Santas dance in homeowners' heads. Whether you want to create a lavish display like Durham, save a few bucks or simply be friendly to the environment, getting into the holiday spirit has never been easier.
Lavish your home
Travis Freeman likes to position Santa and his levitating reindeer in various unusual settings. Santa in a hot air balloon. Santa driving a motorboat, reindeer on water skis. Santa in a sleigh, reindeer zooming by on motorcycles.
"We did that for a guy who was a huge Harley (Davidson) fanatic," explains Freeman, founder of Brite Ideas, an Omaha, Neb.-based holiday decorating franchise. His company caters to people with deep pockets and grand schemes for outfitting their homes in holiday-themed pizazz.
The company serviced 40,000 homes last year. A popular seller is custom-designed steel silhouettes with lights attached, like Durham's giant angel or the waterborne Santa. For less ambitious folks, decorating franchises have a slightly different appeal: They'll do all the work.
"I guess first and foremost people don't like the hassle," explains Brandon Stephens, director of marketing for Christmas Decor Inc., another decorating franchise. "And second of all, they want a better result."
Forget that rickety ladder and that short-circuiting string of lights. For a standard fee of $1,400, Christmas Decor will bedeck the outside of your home in holiday splendor and you won't ever have to leave the couch.
"They've got a company that mows their yard, cleans their pool. It kinda makes sense to have somebody install their lights," Freeman says.
Decorate on the slim
With the current mortgage crisis and bleak economic outlook, some people aren't eager to clean out their wallets to decorate.
"It's undecided how these negative feelings are going to affect people when it comes to buying new holiday decorations," says Pam Danziger, marketing expert and author of "Why People Buy Things They Don't Need." "The only purpose (decorations) serve is to give you an emotional lift. Because they're affordable, they're cheap thrills."
Alek Komarnitsky is something of a holiday decorating sleuth. All year long, he pokes around garage sales, thrift stores even his local grocery store in an ongoing hunt for new decorations.
"The inflatable Hulk, I actually won him at a contest the local supermarket was happening having," explains Komarnitsky, of Boulder, Colo. The Hulk joined a brigade of inflatables including Elmo and Homer Simpson lining his candy cane-strung, lighted roof and front lawn.
Komarnitsky's display isn't just thrifty, it's charitable. While viewing the home through webcams at www.komar.org, Internet surfers can click a button and donate money to the University of Maryland for research on celiac disease, which has affected both of Komarnitsky's sons, Dirk, 9, and Kyle, 6. They've raised more than $20,000 over the years.
Another word to the frugal: Buy most of your decorations in the offseason, when discounted prices abound.
Some major retailers are also catering to shoppers' spending limitations this year. Wal-Mart's "Secret In-Store Specials" make low-price deals available only to people who click on the company's Web site or sign up for e-mail or text message alerts.
Feeling guilty about the pending post-holiday electricity bill? Check out the earth-friendly LED lights, or light-emitting diodes, which burn brighter than regular holiday lights and consume 80 to 90 percent less energy, says Sierra Magazine editor Jennifer Hattam.
"It doesn't look like you have an eco-friendly decoration, it just is one," she explains.
The popularity of LED lights, which cost roughly 30 percent more than regular lights, has grown steadily in recent years, according to Freeman.
"LED lights are half of our sales now," he says. "They're the colors that never fade."
Recycling wreaths and trees after the holidays is another environmentally savvy decorating tip.
"And whenever possible, decorate with candles or things you might use throughout the year, not just at the holidays," says Hattam.