Creating the ultimate Christmas display

Is all about just one single word...

PlanetChristmas Magazine has featured in the past, “Over the Top” displays, all of which, I have admired. There have been articles written for newbie’s and getting them pointed in the right direction, topics on planning, and executing a display, and even discussions on various display elements. However, one concept has not been talked about directly, what truly makes a display something magical, special or unique. What is it that creates a buzz about what you do? What gets everyone talking about YOUR display? What puts your display on the “Bucket List of Christmas Celebrations?” I refer to this as the “Holy Grail.” Understanding what the Holy Grail is, and the impact it will have on your visitors, is going to make your display successful beyond your wildest dreams.

Why are you doing a display?

Let me direct you though a thought process to show you what this is all about, so no fair peeking to the end. To begin, what motivates you for doing your display? What are your intentions? Have you ever honestly thought about it? Every person has different motivations for creating a display. Is it for our family, community, attention, recognition, faith or just because we think it’s cool or fun? There can be many reasons, and these are just a few. At some point, we need to understand why each of us create displays.

Many decorators have told me that their motivation is to create memories, something I could not agree more with. Memories are something special, and, if you think about it, memories have three phases. Past, present and future. How much of your display’s personality comes from your past? Our past is a very important aspect to consider when we approach our displays. Many of us want to re-create and share warm memories from our past through our displays. To this end, when your visitors come to your display, they also might subconsciously seek similar memories from their past as well. Ultimately, what the past creates for all of us, is tradition.
Tradition – – is defined as a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society, with symbolic meaning or special significance, with origins in the past.

Tradition powerfully impacts every aspect of our lives, including our displays. Is this something you consider when you create your display? Do you consider your visitors in this way? Could your display ultimately become part of someone else’s tradition? These are crucial questions to ask yourself as you plan your display.

What is it that we truly create?

We spend tremendous amounts of time, effort, and money on our displays. I list money last, because, we do not have to spend a lot of money to create something special. If you think about it, at the core of what we do, we create an art form. As decorators, our canvas is our house and yard. This allows us to “paint” if you may, truly a 3-D spectacle. If you visualize your display as a work of art, rather than just a house with lights, your display becomes a collage for our visitors to enjoy.

In art, there are concepts that we can use to our advantage for understanding. Most great artists pull from within themselves, and anticipate how their work may be appreciated. This is where interpretation and inspiration are clearly found. The artist draws from internal and external inspiration, and challenges us to see his or her intent. How your visitors experience your display, is all about interpretation. This is interesting when we think and try to apply these concept to our displays. We have a wealth of influence on our displays. Today there is YouTube, Vimeo, social networks, user forums and many other sources that provide some of our inspiration. However, do you ever consider your display from your visitors’ perspective? What do they see, and how do they interpret your creation? Will your display inspire them? Do you care?

Although we are not all equally capable of creating new concepts, we all have something very special. Our imagination. This is referred to as “Our Minds Eye.”

Albert Einstein one of the greatest minds of all time stated:

“I’m enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited; imagination encircles the world.”

Wow! Every one of us has this innate ability; we just have to understand how to utilize it to our advantage. We paint with lights, and we have all witnessed various display elements and techniques being used. This is what I refer to as our “Creative Palette.” In terms of our displays, Creative Palette refers to static, or animation, technology, as well as the many different display features and elements we have come to know. Using our imagination allows us to blend everything together. We can do so delicately, or very boldly. Again, YOU are the artist. It is important for us to remember that it is not about what you have in your display because no one item is going to complete or ruin your creation if you don’t have it. Your displays need to be a reflection of you and your personality, not what others expect out of you and your display.

With art, intangible influences are constantly present. If we relate these influences to our displays, these are the subtle things that make a significant difference. Do you interact with your guests? Do you talk to them and answer questions they might have for you? Do you ask them what they like or dislike about your display? How much do you change up your display year to year to keep it fresh? Do you acknowledge when you recognize those visitors who you see regularly?

Music is an interesting discussion point here if you animate. What type of music is appropriate? Some like tradition styles, some like more modern techno styles. The point here is, how does your choice of music enhance the message or idea that you want to present to your visitors?

Visual perspective is an additional type of intangible influence. Does your display have subtle layers? Do you frame vignettes and leverage your music and lights to highlight them? For example, a visitor to my display years ago provided me a visual that has always stuck in my mind. I knew exactly what he meant when he stated, that too many displays looked like “Christmas threw up on the lawn.” I think we all can relate to that term. Visual perspective and looking at your display through your visitors eyes can assist with this. With all of this, you can create a great display. However, there is one intangible that I believe is a significant key between a good and an outstanding display.

What is the Holy Grail for Us?

Up to now, I have been referring to many aspects of our displays in the sense of what we ultimately create: art. What is the “Holy Grail”? The epiphany really is quite simple:


Emotion is defined as “the highest state of mind, derived spontaneously from one’s circumstances”.
What then defines our circumstances? That would be our five senses; sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Appealing to all five senses with your audience, using everything you have available to you, blended together in the right way, you expose the wonder and magic that is Christmas. You transform your display into a “Christmas Card” and not some random “me too” YouTube video. Your display becomes the destination, and that is when you create present and future memories. You become the tradition. With this, you get to witness generations. Can there be any better reward for all your efforts?

How can we tie this all together? In the context of our artistic analogy: “Art – – is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Ultimately, creating displays is not about using all the latest and greatest elements. It is not about any specific technology, trying to “keep up with the neighbors,” nor is it about how much money you spend. It’s not about what you do or don’t have in your display.

Creating a display is about what you do, with what you have. How much you give back, and the legacy you leave behind. Think about what would happen if you could no longer do your display. Would your community experience a loss? Would they pick up, find another display from some list and not think twice about your efforts. The experience you create, the emotion you trigger, will set you apart from all the other displays.

Wrapping up

I’ve have spent countless hours discussing and debating this subject with many of my peers and friends in the community. A special thanks to Carrie Sansing for her inspiration.


This article was included in the September 2014 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.

By Mark “Zman” Zembruski

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