Pac-Man. Pokémon. Super Mario Bros. Legend of Zelda. When you think of Christmas, you might not think of video games, but about a year ago I got an idea in my head to cross my families love of Christmas with our love of video games to create something special for the holidays. And Nintendo Christmas World was born.
You see, our family loves Christmas. We do tons of fun things as a family every Christmas – you can check out some of the other frugal Christmas fun ideas I’ve talked about before. We also have about five bins of holiday things down in our basement. The day after Thanksgiving we typically get them all out and put everything up.
I have many decorations passed down from my grandparents after my grandmother passed away two and a half years ago. Our tree (fake) was bought 17 years ago, when my parents gave me a tree and ornaments for my first Christmas living on my own. Other decorations were purchased over the years, from tag sales, from Costco, received as gifts, and bought after the holiday on discount. Over the course of nearly two decades you can amass quite a lot of decorations.
In this article I’m going to tell you all about creating Nintendo Christmas World-how I did it (from idea to final assembly), a cost breakdown, and what lessons you can take away from my experience.
Nintendo Christmas World
It was about a year ago that I came up with the idea to do something unique for outdoor decorations. You see, even though the inside of our house is full of Christmas items, the outside was always bare. I found outdoor decorations to be expensive and a pain to put up/take down, so we had never decorated the outside beyond a few wreaths on the doors.Somehow I thought it would be fun to make some large characters from various Nintendo games in a Christmas theme. I could cut them out of plywood, paint them, and hammer them into the ground. Then they would be visible all day long, and at night I could light them up with some of those landscape spotlights. They could be reused year after year, likely only needing some painting touch ups every so often. And they would be easy to put up and take down, just being hammered into the ground on stakes.
A few weeks ago, I decided that if I was going to do it I would need to get started. So I picked up the supplies I would need to make a few characters-paint, plywood, and a jigsaw (which I had never used before). The first four characters took a lot less time than I thought they would. I was able to draw them and cut them out in just one Sunday afternoon, and paint them over the next three nights after work. Then this Black Friday, instead of joining the crush of shoppers, I created the last six characters. I put them all up on Saturday during the day, and assembled the spotlights at night. Then Nintendo Christmas World was complete.
Nintendo Christmas World Process-From Drawing, To Cutting, To Painting
The process was relatively simple, although not really easy. First step was to draw the characters onto the plywood. I used two foot wide by four feet tall sheets of plywood from Home Depot for this, and was able to get two characters out of each piece. So most of the characters are two feet tall, with only the piranha plant taking up one entire piece of plywood.
I used a ruler to measure the exact center of the plywood, so I would be able to make the characters roughly the same size. I drew the characters freehand, using images I found through a Google image search for inspiration.
After drawing came the cutting. As I mentioned above, I’ve never used a jigsaw before, but it’s one of those DIY skills I’ve always wanted to have. My husband gave me some tips, and helped by holding/turning the plywood while I cut, but I did all the actual cutting. It was much easier than I originally thought it would be, and by Black Friday I was able to do all the cutting of six characters (plus PacMan dots and Navi the fairy from Zelda) in just about an hour and a half.
The trickiest parts were always cutting around the corners, particularly the sharp ones. I was able to come up with a good method for them, by cutting the wood diagonally to cut out a triangle. This would create a good starting point for a fresh cut.
For my first time ever using a jigsaw, I think they came out pretty good!
Then after cutting the characters I used a sharpie to trace around the lines. This would make it easier to paint the black lines later, and to paint the characters themselves.
Then I painted them. I had originally bought spray paint, thinking that would be the easiest way to paint them. WRONG! I returned it all to get cans of paint instead. I also had cans of white outdoor paint in the garage, which came in handy not only to paint the characters, but also to mix with some of the other colors to lighten them up a bit. I also scored several small jars of paint at Home Depot in the clearance section, where they had small jars for only fifty cents!
Now I opted to get small cans of the paints for this project, but also for another project I’ll be doing likely next year. My middle son wants us to redo his room with brightly colored squares of paint, so I’m planning to use the paint again for that project.
You need two coats of paint, or you can use a coat of primer and then paint the characters. They won’t look “right” until you outline them in black.
But once they’re outlined, they look amazing.
Since they’re two feet tall, they’re perfectly toddler sized-and still pretty large even for adults.
I finished these first four characters a few weeks ago. I had left plenty of time for the project-since I didn’t know how long it would take or how hard it would be, I thought it best to leave several weeks just in case. But it only took a few days. So on Black Friday I decided to do a few more, and finished six more in a single day-from initial drawing to final coat of paint.
On Saturday, I costed them all in polyurethane to help protect them from the weather. I then hammered in some square dowels to act as stakes, and also to help give them more structure in the back (so hopefully they don’t warp). I used my grandfathers old boxes of nails for this job-I inherited his collection of screws and nails in various old containers. These were all kept in his basement workshop, where he did woodworking and other DIY projects. I must get my woodworking skills from him, and I get my artistic skills from my mother and grandmother.
After hammering the dowels in, I went outside to place the characters. They’re so big that the eleven characters (plus PacMan dots) take up my entire front lawn.
I also wrapped a few old diaper boxes in really bright, sparkly wrapping paper I picked up at the dollar store. Adding some dollar store ribbon helped them look like large, fancy gifts.
Once everything was outside, I just needed to wait until dark to put out the spotlights.
I had no idea how many spotlights I was going to need, so I picked up six-plus two multi-socket extension cords. I also had a few strands of outdoor lights I had gotten from Walgreens. It turned out I only needed four spotlights, so I’ll be returning the other two.
Today, I’m planning to paint all the posts black. Then tonight you won’t be able to see them at all – the characters will look like they’re floating.
The Financial Nitty Gritty
OK, this is all pretty cool, but how much does it cost? I think you’d be surprised how low the cost is, and how much of it is reusable throughout the year.
Plywood is about $10 for a sheet that makes two characters. I used six sheets of plywood on this project, so $60. This is not reusable beyond the characters.
Dowels are under $2 each. I used 15, so $30.
If you need to buy a jigsaw, I found one for $40. This is a tool that we’ve been needing for a while, and is definitely reusable throughout the year.
Extension cords were $15 each, and are reusable throughout the year.
I spent $5 on the wrapping paper and ribbons from the dollar store. The diaper boxes were free, of course, since they were leftover from past diaper uses for my toddler. Not reusable.
For paint, I’d suggest getting it from a craft store and picking up one of each of the main colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple) and larger black and white paints. With coupons you could probably spend $10-$15 on this. I opted for bigger paints for our next project, and already had the white in the garage. You’ll also need paintbrushes of various sizes, which I already had. You can get a package of paintbrushes for five bucks. Reusable.
Polyurethane spray is about $8 a can. I used two, plus some extra we had in the garage. If you have any leftover, you can reuse it.
Spotlights were $10 each. Reusable for outdoor landscape lightling.
The Christmas lights were $5 each, and I got two, but you can skip this. Or you can get more, if you want more of them.
Totals – The total character cost is about $10 per character, including the wood, paint, paintbrushes and dowels. Then the cost for the optional extras (spotlights, extension cords, gift boxes, jigsaw, lights) were $125. So the total cost was less than buying this deer at Home Depot.
The Financial Lessons
Go for reusable. I specifically wanted decorations that could be reused year after year, and would be easy to put up/take down. They’re also fully recyclable should I discard them years down the line. Since they’re made of wood, they would decompose-or could be cut up and made into something new. A lot of the equipment I purchased (like the jigsaw and paints) can be used again and again for different projects.
Learn new skills. I’ve never used a jigsaw before, and obviously never created two foot tall character cut outs. But I’m not afraid to experiment and give it a try. The worst that would have happened is it came out terrible and I’d return all the things I bought. Now I have new skills I can use in different contexts.
Don’t be afraid to try something different and creative. It just might come out looking awesome. I deliberately did a small number of “easier” characters first, to see how they would come out. Only later once I was more confident did I try more complex ones.
Lookout for bargains. I could have probably scored some inexpensive plywood throughout the year-in fact I saw someone online giving it away for free after I created these. I also loved that bargain paint, and wish I had found some more. More than half the cost of doing this was on things that I can reuse throughout the year on different projects. So keep that in mind as you shop.
Use this as inspiration– Maybe you don’t want to make a Nintendo Christmas world in your front yard, but you could get some empty boxes from the grocery store and wrap them in sparkly dollar store wrapping paper for a fun and easy large outdoor decoration. Or you could create a different cutout decoration. Or you could use a giant piece of paper to create something indoors. Have some fun and do something different this holiday season-I hope this has inspired you!
What do you think of Nintendo Christmas World? Let me know in the comments!
If you’re looking for other fun, creative ideas for holidays, or birthdays, check out the holiday section of my Kids and Money page. You’ll be able to check out the awesome and creative things I do with birthday cakes!
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