A Christmas tree is more than just an iconic holiday symbol. It’s the evergreen centerpiece that fills your living room with joy, comfort, and celebration all season long.

Whether you’re a new homeowner or a Christmas tree connoisseur, this guide is for you. We’ll review the tips and tricks you need for a smooth, hassle-free holiday display.

5 Steps to Decorating Your Christmas Tree Like a Pro

The following sections provide a step-by-step Christmas tree decorating tutorial with design ideas along the way. We’ll cover everything from lighting to ornaments to help you confidently deck the halls.

Step One: Set Up Your Tree

The process for setting up your Christmas tree will depend on the type of tree you choose.

Artificial Christmas trees are undoubtedly the easiest option for holiday decor. They typically come in three or four sections that fit together on top of a pre-built base. Many even have built-in lights that save you from wrapping strands of bulbs around the branches. The main to-do with artificial trees is fluffing up the branches before adding ornaments. Fluff the tree’s branches by pushing them in different directions until they look full instead of flat.

family setting up an artificial tree
Image Source: Canva

The setup process is a little more involved if you decorate with a real tree. First, you’ll need to cut a couple of inches from its trunk to boost water uptake. This step also keeps the tree from drying out too quickly and becoming a fire hazard. Make sure the cut is straight across the base, so your tree won’t lean to one side in its stand. Next, trim the bottom layer of branches from the trunk to make room for the tree stand, skirt, and heaps of holiday gifts.

Once you’ve gotten your tree into the house, choose a place for it to spend the season. You need to set it away from heat sources like fireplaces, vents, and space heaters, as these could dry it out and increase the risk of a fire.

Choose a stand that will hold your tree steady and provide it with water throughout the holiday season. This tree stand from the Krinner store on Amazon is an excellent choice. It has a foot pedal for easy tightening and a hidden water reservoir that prevents pets from stealing a drink of dirty water.

This video from Ace Hardware provides more tips and tricks for setting up a real Christmas tree:

Step Two: Light the Tree

Once your spruce is steady in place, it’s time to add some Christmas tree lights to the branches. You’ll need several strands to light your Christmas tree horizontally. The Christmas Light Emporium recommends using about 100 mini lights for every foot of your tree’s height. You can decrease that number slightly for larger bulbs like standard LEDs or C7s.

You have a few light strands, and now you’re ready to start wrapping the tree. Not so fast – always test out your lights before putting them up. This quick step will save you the headache of wrapping strand after strand around mounds of branches to discover the bulbs don’t work.

woman hanging string lights on a Christmas tree
Image Source: Canva

There are a few techniques for hanging lights, but we recommend the horizontal method – especially for beginners.

Start wrapping your lights around the tree from the top down. This technique allows you to connect more strands as needed until you reach the bottom of the tree. Snake the lights over and under the rows of branches to produce a more organic, well-distributed look.

If you get to the bottom and have a few feet of lights left over, you can tuck them out of sight behind the tree. And remember – if the display isn’t bright enough for your liking, you can always start at the top again with another layer of lights. Before moving on to the next step, plug the lights in, stand back, and check for gaps. Then, adjust the strands as needed for a perfectly lit display.

Step Three: Add Garland

Now it’s time to grab some garland. Start at the top of the tree – as you did with the lights – and drape the garland over and under the branches. If no one will see the back of your Christmas tree, you can make your way down the front in a tight “S” pattern to save some material. Otherwise, winding the garland completely around the tree from top to bottom is a simple, effective method.

Once you’ve covered the tree in rows of garland, step back and check for bare spots, loose sections, or areas that look too uniform. You might want to go back through these sections and push the garland further into the branches for a more organic look.

Garland Ideas

Garland is the perfect tree decoration for DIY lovers – the options for this classic decoration are limitless. Crafty homeowners might crochet their own garland strands, while others might string sparkling snowflake ornaments on fishing line for a glam design.

Consider these garland design ideas for unique Christmas tree themes:

  • Burlap garland creates a rustic-chic theme that flows seamlessly from Thanksgiving into Christmas.
  • Pine cone garland is excellent for a charming woodland design; spray the pine cones with white glitter paint for a snow-dusted appearance.
  • Traditional tinsel is a classic choice to give your tree a merry, bright, and playful aesthetic.
  • Beaded garland comes in multicolor and natural selections to add stylish, geometric charm to your display.
  • Yarn will create a soft, comforting garland that wraps around your tree like a warm hug.
  • Ribbon makes excellent garland because you can choose from the countless patterns, materials, and textures.
  • Dried orange garland is a delicious DIY option that will have your spruce smelling citrusy-fresh for the holidays.

Step Four: Hang Your Ornaments

It’s time for the best part of decorating a Christmas tree – hanging ornaments. There’s no right or wrong way to hang your ornaments. The most important thing is that you finish the project with a beautiful tree you love. Regardless, you can take a few steps while adding ornaments to create a cohesive, full design.

Annual Ornaments Direct provides the following steps for a delightfully decorated tree:

  1. Select your ornament hangers – You can use materials like ornament hooks, ribbons, or florist wire to hang tree ornaments. Ornament hooks are typically the cheapest option, though ribbons might be safer for households with kids or pets. Florist wire is an excellent tool for tightening ornaments onto branches for a solid hold.
  2. Place ornaments intentionally – Start by hanging collections of similar ornaments to ensure they’re evenly distributed. For example, if you have sets of ball ornaments, you’ll want to hang all of these before moving on to homemade and specialty items. Hang expensive or sentimental ornaments higher up, out of the reach of little hands and curious pets.
  3. Consider ornament sizes – Hang larger ornaments deeper into the tree where branches are thicker and sturdier. This method creates a better visual dimension for your display.
  4. Do a final check – Once all baubles are hung, stand back and check for an even distribution of ornament sizes and types. Walk around to ensure there are no visible bare spots, especially toward the back of the tree.

Ornament Ideas

You don’t have to stick with traditional glass ornaments. Consider hanging these festively fabulous items on your tree:

  • Candy canes
  • Pine cones
  • Miniature wreaths
  • Bells
  • Holly leaves
  • Red berry tree picks

Seeking some affordable, creative fun for winter? Here are 30 DIY Christmas ornament ideas you can make with supplies from the dollar store:

Step Five: Top It Off

The final step in decorating is adding your Christmas tree topper and skirt. You might need a chair or ladder to reach the top, so practice extra caution and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If the topper looks awkwardly tall or unstable, trim a couple of inches from the top branch, allowing the topper to nestle further down. Then, tuck a tree skirt around the tree’s base, covering the stand and water reservoir. With these finishing touches out of the way, you can finally step back and admire the beautiful evergreen display enchanting your home.

family smiling while putting a topper on their Christmas tree
Image Source: Canva

Other Ways to Personalize Your Christmas Tree Decorations

Your tree doesn’t have to be traditional if that’s not your style. We suggest fitting your Christmas tree theme into your home decor for a more personalized, cohesive interior design. Or, you can go for a unique theme or eye-catching color scheme.

Christmas trees are traditionally decorated with red, green, gold, and white ornaments. You can choose a different variation of these classic hues or throw them to the wayside. You’ll be surprised how well nontraditional colors enhance your home’s Christmas display.

Lights, Ornaments, Action!

Now that you know the steps to decorating a Christmas tree, you’re ready to turn your living room into a winter wonderland. Remember that there isn’t a right or wrong way to dress your tree for the season as long as you love how your decorations turn out. However, some tips – like wrapping lights from the top down or using sturdy ornament hangers – can streamline the setup process. No matter how you decorate your tree, we hope you add a few personal touches and have lots of fun along the way.

Today’s Homeowner wishes you and your loved ones a bright, merry Christmas and a happy holiday season.

Do you want to spruce up your outdoor space but don’t know how to go about it? We recommend you try out planting trees in containers. Read our article to find out the ideal trees for container gardening

Disclosure: HouseMethod participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate advertising program is designed to provide a means for publishers to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Editorial Contributors
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Elisabeth Beauchamp

Senior Staff Writer

Elisabeth Beauchamp is a content producer for Today’s Homeowner’s Lawn and Windows categories. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in Journalism and Linguistics. When Elisabeth isn’t writing about flowers, foliage, and fertilizer, she’s researching landscaping trends and current events in the agricultural space. Elisabeth aims to educate and equip readers with the tools they need to create a home they love.

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Andrew Dunn

Senior Editor

Andrew Dunn is a veteran journalist with more than 15 years of experience reporting and editing for local and national publications, including The Charlotte Observer and Business North Carolina magazine. His work has been recognized numerous times by the N.C. Press Association and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He is also a former general contractor with experience with cabinetry, finish carpentry and general home improvement and repair. Andrew earned a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as a certificate in business journalism. He lives in Charlotte, N.C.

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