For most of us, the word holidays brings happy memories and thoughts of celebrations with family and friends. It quickly brings a warm, cozy atmosphere to the coldest of winter days. Most of all, it gives us something to look forward to.

Add the word decorating, however, and holiday can lose a bit of that joy. Even if you’re someone who likes to decorate for the holidays, a quick trip to the attic, basement or crawlspace can cure you of at least some of your initial enthusiasm. For most of us, all it takes is one glance at the storage containers we were too tired to organize last year. The mere sight of box after overflowing box is enough to get us to close the door and say, “I’ll do it later.”

Every year, later is the culprit behind much of our stress. Suddenly it’s mid-December and we realize that there really is no later anymore. The holidays are upon us, filling our days and nights with shopping and baking, and we are forced to hang those wreaths and decorate that tree “now or never.”

It doesn’t have to be this way, however. We can take the advice of professional holiday decorators and simple suggestions from the Internet to help us through the hardest part. This year, let’s follow some simple steps and not let decorating and later take the joy out of such a joyous season.

The first step when decorating for the holidays is deciding who will do it. Honestly, some of us just don’t have enough time to devote to transforming our houses into festive destinations for Santa. If this is the case, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. There are several local professional decorators, such as Michele’s Floral Events, Green View Companies, Christmas Décor and Monier’s Flowers and Gifts, who spend the better parts of November and December decorating homes and offices for Christmas. They can do as little or as much as you want, so don’t be shy; give them a call!

If you decide to do the decorating yourself but need a few pointers along the way, keep reading! We’ve spoken with said professionals who have many tips and trends for do-it-yourselfers.

In speaking with several local decorators and surfing the web, we’ve found that the most common suggestion regarding Christmas decorating is to get organized and to do it early. It seems this is the key to doing it right. Start out by brainstorming possible themes, including colors and textures, which you might use in your decorations.

Consistency is Key

Onlinediscountmart.com suggests you grab a pen and paper and jot down a list of themes that interest you. For each one, list colors, fabrics, textures and any decorations you already own which could substantiate the overall theme. Once you have a good list, start crossing out ones you don’t like or themes for which you were unable to come up with details. The more ideas you can pin down at this stage, the easier the actual decorating process will be.

Don’t know where to start? Some ideas can be found online at professionalcrafters.com. This site lists many Christmas trends for 2007, including popular themes such as nature, whimsy, animals, nautical, religious, handcrafted, memory, vintage, retro and glamour.

Green View Companies in Dunlap says some of the themes they will use this season when decorating homes and offices include Whispering Pines, Winter Garden, Snow-Fun, Angelic Elegance and Crystal Ice Island.

Keep in mind that themes aren’t only for interior decorations. The exterior of your home or office should also reflect your theme. If you’re going for a traditional theme, for example, a giant inflatable Santa might not be the best choice for your front lawn. Instead, consider using white lights on the house and bushes, and simple, yet elegant garland and wreaths on the doors.

Carolina Cortes of Green View Companies said their company “can help customers fill their urns and containers with combinations of fresh greens, swag a beautiful garland around the front door or hang a gorgeous wreath.”

Experts agree that the most important thing when choosing your holiday theme is that it reflect your personality. You, your family and your friends will all appreciate such a theme more than one which isn’t really “you.”

Michele’s Floral Events works clients’ own items, such as vases and candleholders, in with what they bring so as to create a personal touch. “It’s more homey and cohesive for clients and really makes the decorations in tune with their personal style,” owner Michele Birkner said.

Red and Green— Is that All?

No! While red and green are the colors we traditionally associate with Christmas, they are not the only ones. When reading about color trends for 2007 on professionalcrafters.com, we find white, yellow and blue—not what most people think of as Christmas colors. But, if we look further, some fairly normal combinations come about: burgundy and silver, ivory and gold, silver and black and even aqua and green. Many of us might not think of metallic shades when first brainstorming colors, but look around and you’ll notice, there are many silver and gold objects out at Christmas: ornaments, ribbons, wrapping paper, festive candlesticks, etc.

Wanting to get an expert’s opinion on this color matter, we asked Bob Monier of Monier’s Flowers & Gifts what colors are trendy this season. He said that the combination of lime green and red are pop ular, but that the traditional red and dark green will never go out of style.

Feels Like Christmas

Just like colors, the textures of decorations are integral parts of the overall theme. If you choose nature as your theme, you’ll probably want to include rustic decorations made from knotted, unfinished wood, prickly pine sprigs and rough, natural twine. If your theme is religious, consider using more elegant fabrics, such as shimmering silks and soft, tufted velvets. Details like these can really make your theme pop!

Christmas Inside and Out

Once you’ve decided on a theme, colors and textures, it’s time to get started on the details concerning both indoor and outdoor decorations. What decorations will you use? Colored lights or white? Blinking or constant? There are so many choices these days that deciding is almost more difficult than decorating.

You’ll want to make sure you know what decorations and materials you already have before heading to the store. This might mean a visit to that attic, basement or crawlspace to jog your memory. Be sure to make a comprehensive list so your time isn’t wasted by several trips to the store.

A Festive Interior

Will you hang wreaths and garland inside? Does your theme include trendy plaques with cute sayings? What color lights will you put on your Christmas tree? How about scented candles to give your space an inviting fragrance? Are you planning to entertain? If so, you might need a centerpiece, mantle decorations or fragrant pine sprigs here or there.

Michele’s Floral Events offers extremely personal service to clients, taking the time to learn the personal styles and tastes of each customer. Michele said she is most concerned with the happiness of her clients—they want to leave clients happy, not merely satisfied, with how their decorations turn out. “We are very respectful of homeowners and houses. We are very careful and make a point to not scratch or damage anything in the house. For example, when we put garland on staircases, wires are wrapped around a complementing ribbon so as not to hurt the balustrades.”

Light Up the Season

When it comes to outdoor decorating, try to steer clear of the “Griswold syndrome,” as Online Discount Mart calls it. As we learn from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, there is such a thing as too many lights! Take a lesson from Clark Griswold and avoid sucking all of Peoria’s electricity through your home’s meager circuits. Visit the U.S. Fire Administration website, usfa.dhs.gov, or onlinediscoutnmart.com for ways to “keep things festive, safe, and tasteful”—goals we should all have.

More often than not, Christmas Décor’s clients want the outside of their homes decorated with strings of those great lights which are almost a necessity for the season. Any professional you talk to about decorating with Christmas lights, especially outdoor lights, will tell you that the most important part is safety. “You really have to know what you’re doing,” said Chuck McKeown, owner of the Christmas Décor franchise that serves Peoria, Bloomington and Springfield. “Each crew is given a map of the house and digital pictures to go along with it. It details what gets lit and what doesn’t and where power supplies are located at each home. All employees receive extensive training in this area for their safety and the clients’ safety.”

What’s really impressive about this company is that included in the service is maintenance throughout the holiday season. If a light bulb goes out at any time during the holiday season, clients can call McKeown, who will send someone out to replace it within a couple of days. Another service offered by Christmas Décor is the storage of decorations. Clients decide when they want their decorations taken down, and a crew will come out, pack everything away and take it back to their location for storage until the next year.

If you’re hanging lights yourself, any specialist will tell you to check for burned-out or missing bulbs, exposed or frayed wires, loose connections or cracked or broken sockets. It’s good to wrap connections between multiple strings of lights with electrical tape to protect them from the elements. Also tape the empty female connection at the end of the strand. Consider using a timer to avoid leaving the lights on for too long and to help prevent fires.

Need Inspiration?

If, when brainstorming, you think you could use a bit of help from professionals but want to ultimately do the decorating yourself, consider attending a short class or two.

According to Carolina Cortes, Green View hosts open houses during the first two weekends in November, giving customers the opportunity to make decisions about holiday decorating. After that, “our purchasing team spends a considerable amount of time selecting merchandise that reflects our clients’ lifestyles both in the garden and the home. Our customers come to us looking for home décor and holiday decorations that are creative and new.” They also offer a series of seminars on holiday decorating.

For 15 years, Bob Monier of Monier’s Flowers & Gifts has taught classes at Illinois Central College on how to make decorations. This year, he will teach students how to make elegant holiday centerpieces, fresh holiday wreaths and door swags.

Leave it to the Pros!

If you decide that you simply don’t have the time, or that you’d rather have someone else deck your halls, there are several local companies that offer holiday decorating services. You better contact them soon, though, as their calendars fill up quickly!

No matter how you decide to decorate—by yourself or with the help of professionals—remember that a little organization this year will save heaps of time and energy next year. Take care when putting your ornaments, wreaths and lights away and be sure to label, categorize and organize so all of your laters can be enjoyed with family and friends. If you do things right this year, the combination of holiday and decorating won’t get you down at this time next year. Instead, they will quickly bring a warm, cozy feeling to all of those cold winter days. a&s