Last Christmas I did some research into how people decorate their colonials and found that many people, in keeping with the refined simplicity of their home's architecture, just put up some wreaths and call it good.
From what I hear, this became popular after the Colonial Williamsburg folks did some research on how colonists decorated for Christmas. As it turns out, most colonists didn't. Apparently Christmas wasn't that big of a deal to protestant colonists of English heritage at that time. So the Williamsburg folks basically came up with what they thought decorations would look like if they were more into Christmas.
It turned out being a great look for my house. One stranger stopped her car while I was working in the yard this summer to tell me how much she was looking forward to driving by my house again this Christmas.
What I do is hang an artificial wreath outside the storm windows from a red "outdoor" ribbon and attach a red bow to the bottom of it. The wreath and red ribbons provide interest during the daytime. I place light-sensing "candles" in the windows. The window candles give off a peaceful, warm, or welcoming feeling at night.
It isn't too expensive to do yourself. I bought my wreaths, ribbon, bows, and light-sensing candles at Michael's around mid-December and they were all marked down quite a bit (when is Michael's ever not having a sale?). I think for everything combined I probably spent around $100.
The bows were pretty chinsy but for $1 each they really only needed to last a year or two. The red has faded into more of an orange-red after being outside for a couple months and sitting in the attic in the off-season. I'll have to get some better outdoor ones next year I guess.
This year I had to clean up my mess from last year: 2-sided tape that was stuck to the glass all summer. I used a scraper and "goof off" to remove it. It takes a little while but does finally come off clean. The tape that was stuck to the wood came off pretty easily.
This year I decided to purchase some Velcro tape to use in place of the 2-sided tape. It should be easier to remove in the future. I centered the tape on the window using a yard stick and stuck both sides of the tape onto the top rail of the storm window.
I think in the future I would purchase the bigger sized pieces of Velcro tape. This size of tape was right on the verge of being too undersized to hold the weight of the wreath when I send it out the window. But that's getting a little ahead in the process. Here is what the wreaths look like before I hang them.
Next I place the wreath where I want it on the window and press the ribbon onto the Velcro tape. For me, I place the wreath far enough down the window to where the body of the wreath rests on the wood meeting rail and not the glass. If you do it the same way, you will appreciate your foresight on a windy night when you can't hear the metal frame of the wreath clanking against the glass all night.
On the first floor windows, I can just rehang the storm window pretty easily. On the second floor windows, I have to finagle the storm window from the inside of the house to the outside of the house without the wreath sliding off to the side or falling to the ground below (which could be prevented by buying the larger Velcro stickers). Once I got tired of the stair workout, I went into the garage and brought out a couple bungee cords. I hooked them around the wreath so that the wreath would be secured by means other than the Velcro tape.
Once you get the window situated in place, you can remove the bungee cords and admire your work!
If you don't have storm windows, you can hang the wreaths even more easily by pinching the ribbon between the window frame and the top sash (if your top sash is operable). If you have some other kind of storm window that isn't removable you could either put grommets into the ribbon and hang it from hooks above the window or hang the wreath from suction cup wreath hangers.
You might not like such a long tail on your wreath but the bright red color looks nice from inside and out. Below you can see what it looks like at different times of day.
Here are some other decorations around the house. Comment if you have ideas on how to improve upon them (on a budget)!