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9 holiday hacks to make your season brighter

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but as any ‘elf’ can tell you, the wonderful doesn’t just happen. With so many celebrations and so much to do, getting in the holiday spirit can seem an exhausting proposition. But there are ways to get from festive point A to joyful point B without losing it. Try these holiday hacks for speedy ways to get your merry on.

1. Get the glow

Need a low-fuss, high-impact centerpiece or mantel display? Pull out those empty jars (Mason jars, pasta sauce jars) you’ve been saving and whip up a batch of beautiful winter luminaries in no time. Fill jars about ¼ full with Epsom salts and drop in a battery-operated votive. Line up in multiples for a pretty winter decoration. For a subtle nod to the holiday season, embellish the neck of the jars with heavy twine and hot-glued mini pinecones, or layer fresh cranberries over the Epsom salts in every other jar. Tip: use kitchen tongs to easily position the votives.

2. Think outside the box

Everyone loves a beautifully wrapped package, but turning every gift into a festive showpiece requires a serious investment of time and effort. If the retailer offers a high-quality gift box, skip the wrapping paper altogether and instead, rely on easy embellishments like ribbon — positioned to hide any logo — and interesting tags to raise a package to seasonal work-of-art. You’ll save time, a little cash and do the environment a favor, too.

3. Let there be lights

It’s easier than ever to pull together a festive outdoor lighting display. Stroll through any retailer’s holiday section and you’ll soon learn that light technology has come a long way in recent years.

Now the standard, there’s the miracle of LED lights. They burn brightly for up to 25,000 hours and also enable the layering of multiple strands, without the worry of overloading electrical outlets. Other products to consider are solar-powered outdoor lights and multi-outlet remotes.

You can also put your outdoor light fixtures to work and eliminate the need for miles of extension cords by using screw-in adapters. Plug the strands directly into the adapter and operate lights from the corresponding switch indoors!

4. Collar the tree

This year, the most stylish trees are forgoing the skirt and focusing on the collar. Christmas tree collars sit at the base of the tree and are available in different textures – rattan, wicker, even galvanized metal – that complement a tree’s theme. They make for a more polished bottom of the pine…even after the gifts have disappeared. Check out the selection at the big craft stores and look for downloadable coupons (collars, like tree skirts, can be pricey).

5. Supermarket saves

Stocking up on staples? Supermarkets can be a veritable treasure trove for holiday and Christmas décor…not to mention a serious timesaver as you’re likely going there anyway.

Comb the produce department for fruits or veggies with seasonal colors and shapes. When displaying your bounty, think simple and festive…pile pomegranates and pine cones in a silver bowl, tuck pears and cranberries on a wooden tray or pour nuts (still in their shells) into glass jars! Think beyond the poinsettia and pick up boxed Amaryllis or Paperwhite kits, which come with everything you need to grow a seasonal stunner. Corral multiple bulbs from individual pots into a larger container that complements your theme. The bulbs are a wonderful seasonal accent as they grow…and will make a fab hostess gift later in the season.

6. Easy as pie

With a bit of extra effort, you can turn a holiday staple into a festive showstopper. All you need is a pie-cutter kit (Williams-Sonoma has a wonderful collection of seasonally-themed cutters) and pastry to serve as your "medium." With a little practice, you’ll be turning out edible masterpieces in no time. Tip: To save time and effort, use Fill & Bake premade pie crusts, and line the baking sheet with parchment paper to catch the bubbly drips. Saves on clean-up for the oven and the pan!
For a little extra magic, dress your Christmas morning muffins in holiday-themed cupcake liners. Sold in kits featuring decorated cupcake liners and decorated toothpicks, they inject a whimsical note into a standard treat. Tip: The design of the themed liners will stay pretty and crisp if you use foil cupcake holders when baking.

7. It takes a village

A paper lunch bag, some baker’s twine and a puffy paint pen are all that’s required to make adorable "gingerbread house" treat bags perfect for gifting mini-loafs or cookies. Draw the details, let the paint dry, fold back the top of the bag and hole- punch spots for the twine. Repeat for a "gingerbread" village!

8. To the letter

With monograms still all the rage, putting a stamp on your holiday style can be as simple as spelling out a festive word, such as "Joy" or "Noel," that conjures the spirit of the season. Hit the craft stores for 3D kraft paper letters that you can decorate…or not…as kraft paper accessories already pair beautifully with greenery and rustic ornaments. Line up the letters across a mantel or window ledge, or hang in each of several adjacent windows.

9. Easy install

Everyone loves holiday displays…but no one likes the hassle of installation. But the right tools can change everything. My go-to: Command outdoor hooks. They are water and UV resistant and designed to handle temperature extremes. Use them to easily string lights, hang garland or display branches without messing with nails or ties. The hooks can hold weight an hour after installation and come off without defacing paint or leaving marks.

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