Weekend Project

Justin Newcombe's tips on outdoor DIY projects

Weekend project: An alfresco Christmas

By Justin Newcombe

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In this hemisphere Christmas is a warm affair, so Justin Newcombe decides to take the festivities outside.

Justin Newcombe with his Christmas tree lights project, accompanied by his children, Jasper and Grace. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Justin Newcombe with his Christmas tree lights project, accompanied by his children, Jasper and Grace. Photo / Sarah Ivey

As I grew up, I only really experienced Christmas decorations as an indoor activity - a bit of tinsel dripping off the tree, the occasional sock pinned to the mantel stuffed with a tennis ball and a peanut slab and the traditional Christmas card clothesline. Like a lot of Kiwi kids growing up, the idea was to open your prezzies, do the rounds then hit the beach. The odd thing here is that our Christmas is in the middle of summer and we did all of our decorating on the inside of the house but we were all gagging to get outside - so why didn't we spend a bit more time on bunting and flags and stuff?

In a New Zealand Christmas situation, Santa doesn't need a big jacket, a sleigh and reindeer, he needs sun lotion, a surfboard and a ram. And who wants to stand around a piano swilling eggnog like an episode of Happy Days?

It's time to move Christmas outdoors isn't it? This year I've made a go of lighting up part of the front garden. I wanted something that was all about New Zealand so I decided to light up some nikau palms, which proved difficult at first.

However with some perseverance and the invention of my reversed hook it was actually quite a simple affair. Just to drive the "NZ" idea home I decided on a sign and nothing says "NZ" like a sign made up of the letters N and Z.

I found this kind of lighting is just like drawing in your garden. If you have an interesting tree you can wind lights around the branches or part of your house or fence. You can also make a silhouette to hang the lights on to.

I used some timber offcuts to make my NZ sign and painted the whole thing black. The idea is not to light up the sign or the tree or whatever, the idea is for the lights to become the sign or object.

If you really want you could make a "light" Santa or you could do that other bloke... the one having the birthday.

Step 1

The first thing to consider is your design. The best way to get a good overview of the area you want to light up is to take a photograph and look for opportunities like trees and balconies and for spaces you can fill with messages or other Christmassy characters or icons.

Step 2

Make silhouettes using anything from chicken wire to bamboo. I've used a couple of strips of leftover ply. I worked out my pattern on a flat surface and marked, cut and screwed the timber together to form the words. Overlaps don't matter as it's the lights that will show up in the end.

Step 3

Once you've got an idea of what you're lighting, take your design along to Bunnings and start putting the pieces together. For remote areas look at using battery powered lights which utilise LED technology and are really energy-efficient.

Step 4

You can wrap the lights around an object and fix in place with a cable tie. The closer the lights are together, the brighter and more effective your display will be.

Step 5

To hang the lights up high I used an upside-down hook on a pole, a lot easier then using a ladder, which requires frequent moving.

Step 6

Once the lights are in place plug them into a plug boss and then into an extension lead if necessary. Make sure the plugs are covered with a bucket or kept under cover. Plug the lead into an outside weatherproof socket if you have one or otherwise through a window and to an inside power point. In all situations use an electrical safety switch which will terminate the power if the lighting becomes unsafe. DO NOT under any circumstances use the lighting without one, it could ruin your Christmas.

- NZ Herald

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