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How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree in 6 Simple Steps

Make your Christmas tree Pinterest-worthy with these simple steps.

For many, decorating the Christmas tree is one of the most enjoyable activities of the holiday season. However, if you think you may need a little help, let us guide you through some tree trimming basics. 

Step 1: Set Up Your Tree

Select the desired location for your Christmas tree and place it in a tree stand. Artificial trees typically come with a stand, but if you’re in need of a tree stand for your live or artificial tree, Christmas Central carries a wide selection. 

Step 2: Christmas Lights

If you have a live Christmas tree or unlit artificial Christmas tree, test your lights before hanging them. Plug in each string you plan to use. Make sure all the bulbs light and the cord is in good condition. Replace any dead bulbs. Please see our Safety Guide for more tips on lighting.

You should also test the lights on your pre-lit artificial Christmas tree, as it will be easier to replace any blown-out bulbs now, before you add decorations and other trimmings.

How many lights should I  use?

Don't skimp on your Christmas lights! Decorators typically recommend 100 mini lights for every foot in tree height. That’s about 600 lights, or six 100-light sets of Christmas lights, for a 6-foot Christmas tree. That number is only a guide and depends on the types of lights you use. For instance, you may want to cut back on your bulb quantity if you’re using mini LED lights, as LED Christmas lights tend to be brighter. 

You also may want to use fewer lights if you prefer the vintage look of larger C7 and C9 bulbs.

Don't be afraid to mix and match lights – Get creative! Add themed lights and novelty lights afterward, and separately from your basic lights. Space them evenly for the best results.

How to hang lights on a Christmas tree

After you've made sure all your lights work, string them on the tree starting from the top and working your way down. Make sure you’re starting with the right end of your light strand, especially if you need to plug in a lighted tree topper! Weave your lights from inside the trunk toward the tip of each branch and back again while you spiral around your tree.

Step 3: The Tree Topper

Which tree topper should  I use?

A tree topper adds a finishing touch to your Christmas tree. Tree toppers come in a wide variety of styles, shapes, sizes and colors, including stars, angels, Santa Claus tree toppers and snowflakes. We carry both unlit and lighted tree toppers, with incandescent and LED options.

How do I place my tree topper?

If your tree topper is electric, plug it into the socket end of your Christmas lights at the top of the tree. If you have an artificial Christmas tree, consider folding down the top branch of the tree to gain a few more inches or to accommodate a topper with a larger fitting. Many live trees can easily be trimmed near the top to make room for a tree topper.

Bows, a cross between tree toppers and garland, are another option. They start near the top of the tree, with long hanging “tails.”

Step 4: The Garland

How much garland should I use?

Many people decorate their Christmas tree with tinsel garland or beaded garland. Expect to use about nine feet of garland for every foot in height of a large Christmas tree; less for a smaller tree. For instance, you’ll need about 63 feet of garland for a 7-foot Christmas tree. We recommend buying more garland to avoid running out last-minute. Extra garland can be used on your mantel or dining table.

How do I hang my garland?

As with your Christmas lights, you’ll probably find it easiest to hang garland by starting at the top of the tree and working your way down and around. Gently-swagged garland looks more graceful than straight or diagonal lines across the tree. Deeply swagged garland is also beautiful, if your tree is large enough to support this look. 

Step 5: The Ornaments

How many ornaments should I use?

Now comes the fun part: the ornaments! Exactly how many ornaments you hang on your tree is really up to your personal preference and the extent of your ornament collection, but here’s a guideline.

For trees under 9 feet, we recommend using 10-15 standard size ornaments per foot. If your tree is 9 feet or taller, we recommend 12-20 ornaments per foot.
Using ornaments of varying sizes yields an attractive result. For example, this is a list of ornaments used by professional decorators for a 12' tree:

* 3' round: 48
* 4' round: 48
* 4.75' round: 48
* 6' round: 36
* 4-7' finial: 18
* 5-8' finial: 18

Remember, you can use fewer ornaments for a more restrained look, or more ornaments for heightened opulence. In the end it all comes down to your style and preference.

How should I hang my ornaments?

Ornament hooks are the best way to hang your ornaments on your Christmas tree branches. Most are flexible enough to pinch around a branch for extra security. As you hang your ornaments, stand back to judge the full effect. Fill in any spaces with medium-sized and small ornaments to balance the overall look of the tree. Don’t forget to tuck ornaments and other decorations ’inside’ your tree and place some on the tips of branches to add depth and interest.
Protect pets and small children, as well as your precious decorations, by hanging shatterproof ornaments on the lower portion of your tree. 

Consider your tree’s size when buying and hanging ornaments. Larger ornaments may take up too much space on smaller trees, while smaller ornaments may “disappear” on larger trees. Additionally, consider having extra ornaments on hand to replace any that have been damaged or broken.

Step 6: The Tree Skirt

Tree skirts are a popular accessory to hide the base of the tree and provide an attractive setting for your presents. Much like stockings and ornaments, tree skirts come in a wide array of sizes and styles to accommodate your tree’s size and your decorating theme.

As a general rule, your tree skirt should be wide enough to cover the tree stand, but not extend past the bottom branches of the tree. 

Of course, no tree is truly complete without a few brightly wrapped presents tucked underneath. Until Santa arrives, you can always “cheat” with a few wrapped empty boxes.

Many people arrange their Christmas village, nativity set or even a Christmas train set under the tree, but you can also use decorations such as Christmas lanterns, Santa Claus figures, gnomes or nutcrackers for a decorative touch.


Commercial Christmas Tree Decorating Tips

Decorating commercial Christmas trees is not that much different from decorating a smaller tree. However, if the size feels overwhelming, here are a few additional tips to guide you through the decorating process.

Ornaments

First, mentally divide your tree into four “sides,” like a box. Next, separate your ornaments into four groups with ornaments that are about the same size and quantity. Distribute the first set of ornaments evenly on the first “side” of the tree, continuing on with each additional section.

The larger the tree, the more ornaments it can visually support. For instance, a 12' Christmas tree might take 40 ornaments per foot in height, or as many as 480 ornaments. For a more cohesive look, evenly space your ornaments based on their color, shape and style.

Garland

As trees get taller, they also get wider, with a larger area to fill. Larger trees require at least nine feet of garland per foot in tree height. It’s a good idea to have extra garland to fill up space if needed.

Ribbon & Other Decorations

Ribbons and other decorations, like floral sprays, branches and picks, also can help fill up empty space on a tree. Some people even use small toys. When it comes to decorating your Christmas tree, there’s really no limit to what can be done!

These suggestions should help get you started on a classically-decorated Christmas tree. Your Christmas tree should reflect your personal tastes and individual style. Feel free to play around with ornaments, styles and decorating techniques to find your best Christmas look!

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