Haul out the Holly: Decorating for the Holiday Season

By Catherine Godbey | Living 50 Plus

When Linda Miller moved into her Sherman Street home in Decatur’s Albany neighborhood, she quickly learned of the historic district’s tradition of decorating for the holidays.

“If you live in Albany or Old Decatur, decorating for the holidays is something you just do,” the 54-year-old Miller said. “My first year in Albany was the first time I really decorated.”

That first holiday, she bought artificial wreaths — because her house gets full sun and real wreaths would be a pile of pine needles and sticks within a week — and created over-sized candies made of Styrofoam and cellophane.

“I think you could see it from the space station. I had lights everywhere,” Miller said.

Now, 25 years later, Miller, who grew up with traditional Christmas decorations inside the home and what her father called “big Italian lights” on the outside, continues to decorate with themes ranging from reindeer games to decorating elves.

This holiday, Miller will reuse one of her past themes “Blue Christmas” — inspired, of course, by Elvis Presley.

“We have to up our game this year and bedazzle and upgrade everything. Santa Elvis will be bedazzled with rhinestones, there will be a full-size sleigh covered in blue glitter and images of a hound dog and basset hound that will be suspended off the porch with little blinking reindeer antlers,” Miller said. “Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas’ album also will be playing on a loop.”

Miller has a yearly decorating routine. To ensure the decorations are ready by the judging of the homes and the Christmas Open House — which was canceled this year due to COVID — she begins preparing in early November and spends Thanksgiving week decorating.

“If I’m reusing decorations, I could have everything done in five hours. When I’m starting from scratch, by the time I crawl out on the roof and hang stuff while my aunt panics and paces downstairs, it could take up to 30 hours,” Miller said.

To create her non-traditional winter wonderlands, Miller, the art teacher at Leon Sheffield Magnet Elementary, delves into her creativity. Her past decorations included creating elves out of clear packing tape, placing Santa hats on them and arranging them as if they were decorating the house. Another year, she made a band and instruments out of clear packing tape and insulation foam and topped the musicians with old Decatur High and Austin High band hats.

For reindeer games — an idea inspired after tripping over her ex-husband’s real mounted deer head — Miller’s front yard featured reindeer cutouts skiing, sumo wrestling, playing beach volleyball, lifting weights and doing synchronized swimming.

“The synchronized swimming was my favorite. There was a kiddie pool in the yard and the reindeer were in gold lamé with clips on their noses. It was a lot of fun,” Miller said. “My philosophy on decorating is the more the better. I always go big. I can’t do anything small.”

Miller’s reindeer games decorations last year earned her first place in the Albany district’s Christmas With a Twist category.

Now, Miller’s neighbors are embracing her whimsical, fun-loving style.

“When I did reindeers last year, they did reindeer too. I don’t know what everyone is going to add for Elvis, but it will be good. This has become a fun, block party,” Miller said.

The Albany Historic District in Southeast Decatur, along with the Old Decatur Historic District in Northeast Decatur, serves as a must-see destination for decorations and as a holiday tradition for many local families.

“One of my favorite things about decorating for the holidays is seeing all of the people drive by and smile and laugh and carry on. I really get a big kick that I get to be part of someone’s holiday tradition,” Miller said.

For individuals new to decorating, Miller suggested buying items on sale, learning to make bows and owning lots of extension cords.

Other homeowners in Albany and Old Decatur offered these tips.

“Get an idea or theme and go with it. Ours is Christmas trees. One year we did Peanuts characters. Our neighbors have done nutcrackers and gingerbread men,” Patty Easterling said.

“Look at magazines and books to get inspired. Decorate with something you love. I love cardinals, that’s one of the reasons I decided to feature cardinals in my decorations,” Bonnie Black said.

“Do your front door, then the next year add something to the windows, then add more lights. You really don’t have to do it all at one time. You will enjoy the process a lot more if you take your time and remember the true meaning of Christmas,” Amy Ratliff said.

“Start off small and add more decorations each year. You can never go wrong with beautiful greenery and red berries. The first year or two may not be what you envision. My first year was pitiful. I looked at the decorations around us and was embarrassed, but I learned from it and took notes,” Billy Speegle said.