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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Taking the Holidays Outside

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Growing up, whenever my brother and I got on our mother’s nerves, she’d holler: “Take it outside! Both of you!” And we’d scramble outdoors like the varmints we were. Going outside was not a punishment. It was a tension reliever, a safe retreat, a welcome escape. (Though he was stronger, I was faster.)

Turns out, Mom had the right idea. Nowadays, the outdoors with all its foreverness and fresh air is becoming that go-to place to celebrate our upcoming holidays. Who saw that coming? Next to being home alone, being outside is the safest place to be in these plague-infested times, experts say. So, as we look for ways to enliven and share our COVID-hindered holidays, taking them outside may be just what the doctor ordered.

Indeed, starting with Thanksgiving, say the data wonks who track these sorts of moves, households across America, in climates warm and wintery, are planning to celebrate alfresco, if only in small groups. And they are decorating accordingly.

TV hosts Evette Rios, of Saylorsburg, Penn., and Tommy DiDario, of Manhattan, are among them. The lifestyle experts have both outfitted their outdoor spaces for the season. “Socializing with family and trusted friends outside during the holidays may be the best way to handle the new normal,” DiDario said.

The only drawback is now you can’t go outside to get away from the prying aunt or crying kids, because you’re already there.

Rios will host family members, eight in all, this Thanksgiving on her recently completed outdoor deck, which has a fireplace and outdoor kitchen. “We plan to do most of the entertaining and cooking there,” she said. “We’ll set up the food outside, and keep it warm with Sterno.”

To make that merry feeling, she’s decked the deck with garland and decorated an artificial tree designed for the outdoors.

DiDario, a lifestyle contributor to Rachael Ray, The Today Show, and Entertainment Tonight, has decorated the 550-square-foot terrace of his Manhattan high-rise apartment, so it’s ready for small festive get togethers. He started by hanging pre-lit wreaths along the edge of the terrace. “I can see them from every room.”

DiDario, who shares the one-bedroom apartment with his husband, said, “We use the terrace as an extension of our living space, and plan to make the most of it year round,” including during the cold, dark months.

“We have a bubble of people we know and feel we can get together with safely,” he said. “They are our group. Being outside with them minimizes risk.”

To get that holiday spirit going, both Rios and DiDario put up their holiday décor in early November.

“Normally, I separate Thanksgiving and Christmas,” DiDario said, “but we needed the joy more than ever this year, so I just went for it.”

Apparently, so did a lot of people.

“Decorating for the outdoors is a huge trend this year,” said Jennifer Petersen, spokeswoman for Balsam Brands, a leading seller of holiday décor. “Outdoor products are selling out fast as more customers want to bring their holidays outside.”

For those who want to take their holidays outside, too, here are some tips from the pros:

· Don’t just bring the indoors out. When decorating outside, indoor décor won’t cut it. If you don’t have live evergreens available to decorate, look for faux décor designed for the outdoors. Artificial trees, garlands and wreaths should have UV protection, which prevents sun damage and fading, Petersen said. Lights should be UL certified for outdoor use. The wreaths DiDario hung on his terrace are heavier than standard indoor wreaths, so they hold up in harsh weather, he said. Rios made sure the decorations she put on her pre-lit outdoor tree were weatherproof and non-breakable.

· Mind the cords. DiDario knew he wanted lighted wreaths along his terrace, but no outlets were nearby, and he did not want to see cords. So he lit on the idea of using battery-operated wreaths, which have timers. Their lights go on every evening and turn off six hours later.

· Add light. Because many outdoor areas don’t have a lot of outlets, look for other ways to create pockets of light, he said. In addition to battery-lit wreaths and garlands, he likes battery-operated candles, which won’t blow out or pose a fire hazard.

· Ward off the chill. To make sure you and your guests stay warm, encourage everyone to dress accordingly. Adding heat with propane lamps, electric heaters, or fire pits will greatly extend the hours you can enjoy the outdoors. Rios placed propane heat lamps across her deck, and DiDario, has electric heaters, since his building doesn’t allow propane. Both have throw blankets in easy reach, stashed in a large basket, or draped over the backs of chairs.

· Windproof the table. When choosing table settings, take the environment into account, DiDario said. Get placemats and napkins made of sturdy material (not paper) that won’t blow away. Then put your guests at ease with stemless glassware. “If glasses and dishes are too fragile, your guests will be on pins and needles. You want everything on the table to sustain outdoor conditions and still look classy.”

· Decorate even if you don’t entertain. “When I hear people say they’re not going to decorate this year because they aren’t having people over, so they don’t see the point, I remind them: We shouldn’t be decorating for others, we should be decorating for ourselves,” DiDario said. “That’s what’s important. If anyone else comes over and enjoys it, that’s a bonus.”

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