Get really big props in your Christmas display

So you want to make more of an impression with the neighbors, as if 10,000+ lights dancing to music controlled by your computer isn’t enough. Consider adding inflatables to your display. Some of us have played with them, even made them a minor part of our yard but a few of us have embraced these as a centerpiece of what we do during the holiday season.

Just a few inflatables
Just a few inflatables

What can you say about a 12 foot Santa? Neat! A 20 foot Frosty? Cool! Your visitors will be thrilled.
Inflatables can be used to accent a display or take it over the top. They are easy to set up, and make an impression day or night. How do I know?

I was not a fan of inflatables until a couple of years ago. Hey, I’ve got 20,000 lights dancing every night to the music! But, the gift of a few and the feedback from people changed my mind. Next thing I knew I was making a detour from the lighting isle to the inflatable isle at the store.

Most of us will stay with the consumer inflatables found at local retailers. You can pay as little as $20 (USD in 2011) for a three foot penguin or $200 for a 20 foot Santa on his sleigh with three reindeer. All of the inflatables will come with a single power cord, some internal lights for nighttime illuminations and a few stakes with rope to keep theses giants in place when the wind is gusty. These consumer based inflatables are lightweight and will last at least five years with simple care. Set up is easy as well as take down and storage.

Where’s the best place to find the inflatables? For convenience, the normal big box and home improvement stores have them in the seasonal sections. They offer a basic selection at good prices. A twelve foot Santa is common and is a great wow starter at only $80. There are also several on-line Christmas retailers specializing on inflatables. Just do a search for ‘inflatables’.

If you want something that no one else has, eBay is the place to search. At last check there were 200 different inflatables available ranging from $5-$1,000. Many are unique and you’ll even find the discontinued ones.

You can also pick up some great deals at yard sales or flea markets and this is the time of year to go looking since few people are in the Christmas spirit and will cut a great deal on those inflatables taking up space in the garage. If you’re really lucky you might even receive some inflatable gifts from fans of your holiday obsession or from people who no longer have the time or ‘spirit’.
Gemmy, king of the inflatable makers, does not sell directly to the public, but has a great web site showing all of its offerings. Start at for ideas.

Looking for special types of inflatables or certain themes? The obvious is Santa, Santa, SANTA! Santa big or Santa small, Santa on a Harley, Santa on his sleigh, Santa in a NASCAR (pick your favorite driver/number), Santa in an outhouse, Santa driving a train, there is even a Santa Christmas monkey! Frosty the snowman is big, or really big. Penguins are cool. There are gingerbread men, angels and nativity scenes. You can go with a favorite family; Peanuts are a classic, Winnie the Pooh, even the Grinch. A search of eBay will reveal inflatables you never thought of. SpongeBob inflatable anyone?

Inflatables at night
Inflatables at night

What about life outdoors for inflatables? That’s what most are designed for. They will hold up well in all but the worst of weather. Perhaps the biggest issue is wind. Inflatables, especially big ones, become sails in strong gusts so good tie downs are a must but the ones that come in the package are just OK. Adding a few tent stakes and extra lines is a good idea to make sure your inflatables stay put no matter what the weather conditions. If the weather forecast calls for strong winds, be ready to deflate, and weigh down your inflatables with something. I like wood, pieces of 2 x 4s or even 4 x 4s. The bigger the inflatable the more tie downs and weight you need to protect your investment. While I’m in warm and sunny Florida, for most snow will be a factor so be ready to shake off your inflatables after a storm.

Inflatables are not power hungry but they do need a little to keep the fan going when they’re inflated. You only need one power cord and can run a dozen or so off a 16 gauge extension cord and two or three off standard 18 gauge SPT extension/lamp cord. If you expect rain during your display season, plug everything into a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter). I also like to place a photo cell timer on my power circuit, not to turn it on/off by day/night, but so I can turn off power to all the inflatables at once when weather threatens and to turn them back on afterwards. It’s a sad sight when you remove the power as they all deflate simultaneously but wait until you plug the power in and watch them all come to life at the same time.

Once you’ve got the inflatable bug don’t forget the after Christmas sales when prices typically drop 50% and even more a few days later as the retailers clear out their unsold inventory, assuming there are any left. Don’t forget the online version of your local big box store because long after the local store has cleaned out its inventory, the on-line store will be clearing out whatever they have left at 75% off or more.

What about the future of inflatables? The selection and quality of inflatables continues to improve. One of my goals is combine my Light-O-Rama computer controlled lights with my inflatables. Imagine being able to synchronize the lights to music inside and out with the inflatables all over my yard! I can’t wait!

This article was included in the November 2012 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.

By Gerold Petroff

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