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How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

Whatever your style or budget, your Christmas tree is the centerpiece of your holiday decorating plans. Learn the best way to trim your tree, layer it with lights and add all the finishing touches.

Living room with Christmas tree

Setting Up Your Christmas Tree

  • For an artificial tree, assemble it according to the manufacturer’s directions. Then shape the branches and tips for a full, natural look
  • For a live tree, make sure it has a fresh cut, then position the tree in a stand, add water and let it acclimate. The tree will take up more water initially, so remember to check the water level in the stand and add plain tap water to keep the cut fully submerged.
  • Add a tree skirt to hide the tree stand and catch any falling needles if you have a live tree. It also creates a nice backdrop for gifts to be placed around.


Shop Christmas Trees and Accessories

Good to Know

While decorating, position your tree about 2 feet from a corner or wall, so you can easily access the entire tree as you hang lights and ornaments.

Selecting Your Christmas Tree Lights

Types of Lights

  • Incandescent string lights have been the standard for years. They're inexpensive and come in a variety of styles and colors.
  • LED (light-emitting diode) lights give off brilliant white light and feature bulb covers in various shapes and colors. LED string lights cost more than incandescent string lights, but they're 85% more energy-efficient and can last up to 40 holiday seasons. Plus, they don't produce heat like incandescent bulbs, so they remain cool to the touch.
  • White lights draw attention to the ornaments on your tree and provide a classic, elegant look to your tree.
  • Colored lights create a festive look and conjure memories of childhood. Try colored lights for a throwback look.

How many strands do I need?

A good rule of thumb is 100 lights for every foot-and-a-half of tree. However, if you love lights, you may want to double or even triple that amount. Use the chart below for the recommended number of lights for fresh-cut trees.


Tree Height Number of Lights
6 to 7 Feet 400 to 700
7.5 to 8.5 Feet 700 to 1,000
9 to 10 Feet 1,000 to 1,300
12 Feet 1,500 to 2,000


Whatever type of lights you choose, make sure they're UL-listed (Underwriters Laboratories). It’s also a good idea to choose the same brand and type of lights for your entire tree. Light colors and even brightness can vary between brands.


Christmas Lights Buying Guide

Shop Christmas String Lights

Hanging Your Lights

Christmas lights

Few things make the holidays more magical than a tree with hundreds — or even thousands — of twinkling lights. If you don't enjoy hanging lights, a prelit artificial tree is a hassle-free way to add sparkle to your home.



Step 1

When you're ready to light your tree, test to see that all the bulbs are working. Work with the lights turned on so you can ensure that the lights are evenly distributed.

Step 2

Make sure you don’t connect too many strands together. Standard incandescent string lights can connect 3 to 6 strands, while LED string lights can connect up to 25 strands. Consult the package and manufacturer’s recommended guidelines to be on the safe side.

Step 3

Start at the top of the tree, and weave the lights up and under branches. Work your way down and around the tree, hanging lights in the back as well. When you reach the bottom, hide any extra lights behind the tree. If you want to add more lights, do another pass, starting from the top and working down.

Step 4

If you love lights and really want your tree to glow, wrap the tree branches with lights. Start wrapping a branch at the bottom of your tree, working from the trunk out. Wrap lights around the individual branches, working farther and farther out. When you're about 4 inches from the end of a branch, stop. Work your way back to the trunk, wrapping the cord just once or twice to hold it in place. Then move on to a nearby branch and repeat.

Step 5

When you're done hanging lights, step away from the tree, turn down the room lights and evaluate your work. Squint your eyes until the tree is blurry to identify any dark patches and rearrange lights to fill in any gaps.

Pick a Color Scheme

Green and blue Christmas living room

If you want your tree to have a unified look, think about picking a color scheme. Some classic combinations include the traditional red and green, red and white, blue and silver and silver and gold. Use your color scheme all over for a simple, elegant look, or instead use it as an anchor and let your ornaments be the center of attention.

See Christmas Tree Decorating Ideas for more eye-catching looks.

Adding Ornaments and Other Accessories

Ornaments on a tree

Now that your lights are ready to go, it’s time to move on to the details. The exact number of ornaments and decorations you need depends on your tree's size, the size of your ornaments, how much of the tree you plan to decorate and your personal style. Follow the steps below to have a fabulous looking tree.

  • Tree topper - Who says you have to save the best for last. By placing your tree topper first you don’t have to worry about stretching to reach the top of the tree and knocking off ornaments in the process. Your great-grandmother’s angel, a decorative star or maybe an elaborate bow, all make great tree toppers. Have fun, and try something new.
  • Garland - If you want to use garland, make sure and add it before you hang any ornaments. Start at the top of the tree and work your way down. Drape garland unevenly and without form for a casual look, or layer it in equal loops for a more formal appearance. Ribbon, beaded, or metallic garland all look great. Pick the one that goes best with your theme.
  • Ornaments - Start by hanging your favorite ornaments first. Scatter these throughout the tree in prominent places. Then fill in with something like red or green balls to fill in the rest of your tree. Be sure to balance ornaments by size too. You don’t want one side of your tree to end up with all large or small ornaments. Don't hang ornaments on the tips of branches. Layering ornaments throughout the whole tree will create depth.


Shop Ornaments
Shop Wreaths and Garland

Good to Know

If you have pets or small children, avoid hanging ornaments on the lower limbs of your tree.

Decorate Multiple Christmas Trees

Multiple Christmas Trees

With so many ways to decorate a Christmas tree, you may need more than one tree to spread the holiday cheer throughout your entire home. Decorating a second or third tree is a great way to utilize extra ornaments or include the kids. Many families have started having a second tree in the family room that includes keepsakes, child-made ornaments and other sentimental items. Another fun idea is to have a small tree reserved just for the kids. You can put this tree in the playroom and when friends or cousins come over for the holiday, they can have fun decorating their own tree with whatever theme they want.