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How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

Whether you’re working with a traditional green or a white, red or purple Christmas tree, here are a few guidelines to get you started on your way to a beautiful holiday anchored by a fantastic tree.

Infographic: Cate White / Copywriter: Danny Maxwell
Christmas Tree Infographic (Click to view larger image).

With the holiday season and all of its magical madness right around the corner, now is a great time to start playing with a few new decorating ideas. As nostalgia is the driving force of the season, we love to pull out our favorite Christmas decorations, but it’s still possible to make a few fun changes that preserve the old traditions and herald a stylish new year.

A good place to start is by taking inventory of your décor. Pieces can take a beating over time, so consider replacing and refreshing the basics every couple of years. But do give items to be discarded a second look, as they may have elements that can be salvaged and repurposed for holiday craft projects - bells, bows, glittery fruits, fanciful trims. Such bits can find a new home sprucing up a wreath or replacing the ubiquitous bow atop a special gift. Make sure the lights are working well before the family gathers to decorate, and consider replacing old lights with LED lights.

Tip: LED lights use a fraction of the electricity, they’ll last a lot longer and they come in all kinds of colors, sizes, and shapes.

Once you see what you have and what needs to be replaced, consider the following ideas.

Lights, Garlands, Action!

If your tree isn’t pre-lit (or you want to augment the existing lights) then lighting will be your first consideration. Old-fashioned incandescents are inexpensive, but LED lights have a longer life and use less electricity. Both types come in multiple colors and shapes. Before you buy, think about what your decorating scheme will be and which light color(s) will complement your ornaments best.

Tip: You’ll want to use at least one 100-light strand for each vertical foot or so of Christmas tree. Purchase an extra set or two so you don’t come up short, and test all lights before you get ready to decorate.

When you’re ready to string the lights, start from the top and move down. You’ll add depth and illuminate more ornaments if you weave the lights through the branches, working toward the trunk and back out again. String with the lights on and check for dark/empty spots periodically.

Once your tree is all aglow, you’re ready to place the garlands. Wrap or drape them loosely around the tree, toward the outside of the branches. (You can also use garlands vertically.) Wide, quality ribbon can be an attractive garland stand-in.


Now it’s ornament time. How many ornaments to use is really up to you – you may find that either sumptuously-full or simple and spare suits your décor better.

As for color schemes, there are so many options these days: silver and pink, hues of blue, delicious chocolate and gold, traditional red and white.

Tip: Using just one ornament color produces a bold statement. Shifting from warm colors to cool makes for a dramatic rainbow effect and looks especially stunning against a light-colored tree.

If you have some ornaments of special significance, place these in prominent locations first. You can then work by size, putting larger ornaments evenly around the tree, moving to medium and then to smaller items. This creates a balanced look. You can also have some fun with size by placing smaller ornaments at the top and moving to larger pieces as you work down to the tree’s base. Oversized ornaments will generally look best towards the bottom of the tree.

Let’s Skirt the Issue

Don’t forget the details. For example, put some thought into the tree skirt, as it will be a focal point as long as the tree is up. Choose something warm and simple that works with the room’s décor, or make a statement with an unexpected punch of color or pattern. Another oft-overlooked detail is the Christmas topper - all the best-dressed trees have them! Here is another opportunity to honor time-held traditions or have a bit of fun.