Decorating Christmas trees is a time-honored tradition, dating all the way back to 16th century Germany. To this day, one of the most magical things about the holiday season is catching glimpses of beautifully decorated Christmas trees twinkling in windows. If you want your Christmas tree to "sleigh" this year, you might be a little intimidated by what you've seen on Instagram and the like. But believe it or not, Christmas tree decorating doesn't have to be a chore. With a little know-how, you can have a perfectly decked out tree of your own in just a few simple steps.
Location, location, location
First things first: decide where your tree is going to go. Your tree will be the star of whatever room it's in, so a little furniture rearrangement might be in order. You might even want to set it in front of a street-facing window to add a little sparkle to your neighborhood.Though it's tempting, don't place your Christmas tree near the fireplace—or any other source of heat, for that matter. Space heaters, air vents, and radiators will dry out your tree, shortening its lifespan and creating a fire hazard.If you want to keep your Christmas tree looking flawless for as long as possible, don't forget to water it. Trees can go through as much as a gallon a day, so keep those refills coming!
Size it up
Nothing kills the festive spirit quite like bringing home the perfect Christmas tree, only to find out it's too big to fit in the room.Measure the height of the ceiling and the width of the space you want your tree to go to determine how tall and wide it can be. And don't forget your tape measure when you go tree shopping either, or "yule" be sorry! Christmas trees notoriously look a lot smaller on the lot than they do inside.As a rule, you should allow a minimum of six inches between the ceiling and the top of the tree, taking your tree topper and stand into account.
Decide on the type of tree
Every species of tree has its pros and cons.
- Spruce, fir and cypress trees generally keep their needles longer than pine trees.
- Fraser firs have stiff, upward turning branches that are practically made for holding ornaments.
- If you pine for that heady Christmas tree aroma, fragrant balsam firs are where it's at.
- Voluptuous cone-shaped Douglas firs are great for filling large rooms.
- If you have kids, you might want to opt for firs or pines with soft needles, rather than spiky spruce or Scotch pine needles.
Choose a healthy tree
There's no point in decorating your Christmas tree to perfection if it's not going to make it to Christmas.
- Check the freshness. Look at the trunk first — it should be slightly sticky. Then, bend a needle with your fingers. Fresh pine needles should bend without breaking, and fresh fir needles should snap apart.
- Check the needles. Grab the inside of a branch gently, and slide your hand toward you. If needles fall off, look for another tree.
- Check the color. Greener is better—some types of trees turn a dull grayish-green if they're too dried out. Steer clear from trees with lots of brown or discolored needles.
Decide on a theme and color scheme
We've all seen Christmas trees that are snowed under several decades' worth of sentimental baubles. While a little nostalgia never hurt anyone, if you want your tree to "spark joy," it's better to go with a cohesive theme that's meaningful to you.Get inspiration from a place, such as a forest, the beach, or your favorite city—or a passion, like music, sports, or travel.Don't force yourself to stick to the traditional Christmas palette of red and green, either. The most stunning trees have a narrow color palette of two to three colors which coordinate with your existing home decor.Whatever you decide, don't forget to include plenty of metallics for sparkle.
Choose your lights
There are two main types of string lights.
- Incandescent Christmas tree lights are the most popular and come in the widest variety of colors and sizes. When they're on, they warm up the branches of a real tree, releasing that classic evergreen scent that candle companies strive for.
- LED Christmas tree lights don't produce heat, so they're far less of a fire hazard than incandescent lights. They might have a higher upfront cost, but they last up to 10 times longer than traditional lights—and are better for the environment.
Whatever lights you go with, make sure they're on a green wire, so they blend seamlessly with your tree color.
Hang your lights right
Christmas lights are the first decoration to go on your tree, and how you hang them can make the difference between ho-ho-ho and ho-hum.
- An underlit Christmas tree causes even the most dazzling ornaments to get lost in the branches. Take the number of lights you think you need, and double it.
- Instead of wrapping the lights around the tree like a maypole, illuminate your tree from the inside out. Start at the bottom and weave the lights through the branches toward the trunk, then out again, then up. Make sure you wrap every major branch with lights all the way to the tips.
- Every so often, check your work by taking a few steps back and squinting at the tree until it's blurry. If necessary, rearrange the lights to fill in any darker patches.
Hang the garland
Christmas tree garlands are the second decoration to go on the tree after the lights.
- Start at the top of the tree, and gradually increase the amount of garland as you weave your way down the branches.
- To avoid a cluttered look, add a variety of garlands to your Christmas tree. Thicker ribbon, paper or foil garlands look best wrapped loosely around the whole tree, while finer beaded garlands look best draped from branch to branch.
Add the ornaments
Now that the lights and garlands are on, here comes the fun part.
- Showcase your favorite ornaments by placing them in prime positions on the tree first.
- Hang your larger ornaments next, making sure you space them evenly around the tree. Fill in the gaps with your medium and smaller ornaments.
- Add specialty ornaments, like clip-ons and icicles, last.
- Don't make the common mistake of putting all of your decorations on the outer edges of the branches. Dive deep!
Top it off
You can't go wrong with a classic star or angel on top of your Christmas tree. But if you want your topper to be a real show stopper, aim for something personal or handmade that matches the theme of your tree. For example, if your tree is beach-themed, consider using a starfish. Have fun with it!