You don't need to spend a lot of time or money, or even buy fireworks, to put on your own light show on Independence Day. In fact, all you really might need to do is dig out the decorations from another big holiday - Christmas.
Those white string holiday lights you packed away six months ago are just one easy, budget-friendly way to add a little sparkle to your porch, patio, deck or garden for a July Fourth cookout or any summer get-together outdoors, says local event planner Monique Semper Flynn.
Flynn, who owns Semper Signature Events, says the question "What do you have that we can turn into perfect for your party?" can open the door to simple but special decorating ideas, including some creative lighting. And with the wealth of battery-operated lights and flameless candles now on the market, lighting up the night is not just easy, it's safer and more fuss-free, too.
One of the easiest ideas evokes memories of summers past.
"A string of twinkle lights in a Mason jar looks like fireflies," Flynn says. "I've also seen old bird cages with string lights inside them, and they look great," Flynn says. The cages, which often can be found at flea markets or antique malls, are fetching hanging from trees or a shepherd's crook but could be set out on tables as well.
If you've got kids, it's fun to involve them in the decorating, Flynn says. For example, give the youngsters a hula hoop and let them wrap battery-operated string lights around it and drape some holiday icicle lights from the hoop. The grownups can be in charge of hanging the hoop from a tree to create a circle of light that will illuminate the party space.
For tabletops, Flynn suggests putting tea lights inside votives, then wrapping the votives with vellum paper in whatever color suits the party's theme or decor. Use double-sided tape to secure the vellum, then write each guest's name on the vellum twice - once on the side facing his or her chair, and again on the opposite side, so that the guests seated across the table know his or her name. For a centerpiece on the table, battery-operated lights inside giant conch or clam shells are perfect for a beach setting, Flynn says.
If you'd like to augment what you've got around the house with a few extras, you're in luck. We scouted local stores last week and found a number of options for easy outdoor lighting: string lights galore, tons of tikis and lots of lanterns.
A few shops had sales in progress on these items, so get 'em while they're as hot as the weather. A note of caution: Be sure to check product labels to see if the lighting is suitable for outdoor use, because some selections must be used indoors or in a covered outdoor area.
Pier 1 Imports has a wide array of colorful string lights, lanterns and candles. Among the string lights, a cute set shaped like margarita glasses in tropical blues, yellows, oranges, reds and greens caught our eye ($19.95 for a string of 10, but recently on sale for 20 percent off). Pier 1 also has a variety of paper lantern string lights available in white or a colorful mix of summery colors ($16.95 for a string of five, also on sale when we visited). Especially pretty were the teal and blue chevron and floral patterned paper lanterns (set of three 8-inch lanterns for $12.95, but recently on sale).
The store also had tabletop and hanging glass and metal lanterns in a spectrum of colors, sizes and styles - choices as ornate as a Gothic cathedral lantern and as simple as a canning jar. Most use tea lights or flameless, battery-operated candles. Prices started as low as $5 and went up from there.
Tiki torches, lanterns
Bed, Bath and Beyond offers a tiki torch that you can adapt for use in several locations. The 4-in-1 Patini Tiki Torch ($14.99) can sit on a tabletop, clamp to a deck or dock railing, serve as in-ground garden lighting or light the way as a 5-foot-tall torch.
If you're looking for centerpiece ideas, a mosaic tabletop lantern or two ($9.99 each) will supply pretty colors in floral tones. The LED lights are solar-powered and are designed to stay lit for eight hours when fully charged.
Also noteworthy at Bed, Bath and Beyond was a solar-powered bug-zapper lantern (set of two lanterns for $19.99). From iConcepts, the lanterns come with both folding handles and ground stakes, so you can either hang them or plant them. The zapper claims to have a range of 18 to 25 feet.
Home improvement stores also proved to be a fruitful source of decorative garden lighting. In the garden center at Lowe's, we found a selection of lanterns and tiki torches. For a Fourth of July gathering, an array of ceramic decorative lanterns and candle holders in red, white and blue would fit the festivities (various sizes, $6 and up), and other colors are available as well for use once the fireworks are over.
Pottery Barn also gets into the patriotic spirit with star-studded glazed terra cotta lanterns in 7-inch-tall and 12-inch-tall sizes ($38 and $47). The rope handles give the lanterns a coastal vibe that suits the Lowcountry well. The store also taps into the current Mason-jar decor trend with its Hyannis lanterns. Made of blown glass and stainless steel with rope handles, these vintage-look lanterns come in three sizes and range from $24 to $69.
Light up the night