DIY Holiday Decor: The Southern Way by Austin Kusnir

Much like sweet tea, Scarlett O’Hara, and SEC football, the front porch is a time-honored symbol of Southern culture. For generations, humble porches of all shapes and sizes have been the central gathering places of family events, conversations with friends, and visits with neighbors.

Notwithstanding, in recent years, mainstream influences seem to have converged and collectively decided that summer is “porch season”: a fact further evidenced by the masses of outdoor cushions, citronella candles, and deck furniture aggressively pedaled by retailers during the months of June, July, and August.. This decision must surely have been reached by folks who have never enjoyed the pleasure of August in Mississippi (an experience which elicits an unparalleled gratitude for air conditioning and antiperspirant).

Here in the South, porch season lasts much longer than three months, and can continue late into the year. Although many of us enjoy tailgates and outdoor parties in the months when summer first yields to the crispness of autumn, we often overlook our outdoor spaces as the holidays approach. By the time November and December usher in the busyness of Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’re often too preoccupied to notice the beauty of the season unfolding around us. This year, be sure not to miss the view from your front porch. There is something magical about enjoying a hot toddy with friends on a golden November evening or watching the sun rise over a frost covered field on a quiet December morning.

Understandably, in the flurry of mailing Christmas cards, wrapping gifts, and hosting festivities, it is easy to think of decorating your porch as another item on your already overwhelming holiday to-do list. Instead, this holiday season, invite friends and family to savor the changing of the season and the warm memories that it will hold. Whether you have a step, a stoop, or a sprawling veranda, the holidays are the best time of year to showcase your outdoor areas using the bounty of Mississippi’s harvest and to share time with those you hold dear.

With a little innovation, achieving a polished and festive look can be rather inexpensive, and you need not look further than your house or yard for inspiration. Mississippi’s warm climate generates an abundance of greenery, which is perfect for creating custom garlands, wreaths and swags.

When creating garlands, select plants that offer volume and deep hues of green, such as fir, boxwood, pine, and of course, the magnificent magnolia. Although you will need clippings of different sizes, look for naturally arced branches 8-12 inches in length to complement the shape of your garland. If you need additional trimmings, visit your local Christmas tree lot. Attendants often give discarded branches away free of cost or will sell them for a nominal fee.

Use a pre-lit garland from your local retailer as the base for your homemade garland. Incorporate the fresh trimmings throughout using floral wire for added support as necessary. After integrating the branches, consider adding real or artificial embellishments such as twigs, berries, or pinecones. Create a focal point for your wreath using a statement piece such as a monogram or letter. Many online retailers and craft stores offer metal or wooden varieties for reasonable prices.

Next, search your attic, garage, or barn for sentimental items from Christmases past. For example, a cherished childhood wagon or toy car can be filled with gifts to create a welcoming entry for guests and serve as a reminder of special family memories. Fill metal buckets with trimmings, plants, or firewood for a festive look. Consider customizing your decorative buckets with paint or vinyl to coordinate with your other decor.

If space allows, create gathering places for conversation. Encourage folks to linger by draping chairs with cozy blankets and placing them beside tables with warm lamplight. Incorporate the same festive trimmings from your wreath and garlands on the tables.

In addition, be sure to keep simple appetizers and drinks on hand for impromptu gatherings. More importantly, invite your friends and family to ‘come on by’ and ‘sit a while’- you might just be surprised at who turns up!

Here’s to celebrating the joy of the season and enjoying the beauty of family and friends.