How to Decorate a Christmas Tree? Do you have a DIY Christmas Tree Decorating or Ornaments Guide?

Now that you've decided on a full blown Christmas tree to celebrate with friends and family, here is a handy DIY (do-it-yourself) Christmas Tree Guide. Decorating a tree gives you a chance to don your creative hat and come up with out of the box Christmas tree ideas. There is no right or wrong way to set up a Christmas tree - it all boils down to your personal taste and style as every Christmas tree is unique. So read on for our recommended set of Christmas Tree setup tips and tricks!

Choosing your Christmas Tree

You should select a Christmas tree that matches your style and can accomodate and display the ornaments, garlands & embellishments you’ve chosen.

Artificial (Fake) v/s Natural (Real) Christmas trees - If you're trying to make a choice between artificial (fake) or natural (real) Christmas tree, it’s good to know the pros and cons of each type.

  • Artificial or Fake Christmas Trees: The advantage of artificial trees are that they save costs, are less expensive and can be reused year after year. They are also convenient - you can just drag them to your living space from wherever they are stored (be it attic, basement or garage) and set up quickly. They retain that “perfect shape”, don't need watering or scatter mounds of messy needles over your floor. Artificial Christmas trees are available in a wide range of shapes and sizes, so you are sure to find something that’ll fit your space. These trees usually come in slender, medium or full shape - this shall decide the girth (width) of your tree. When selecting the tree shape, look for evenly-spaced branches and a symmetric shape that tapers toward the top. When setting up your artificial tree, you can spread the branches out in a manner that gives you a natural display and full bloom look. Artificial trees have one big advantage - you are free to spread the branches out and reshape its tips to hang out the ornaments. Their disadvantages are that they are made of PVC plastic, which is less environment friendly, non-recyclable, have a large carbon footprint and may not be best suited for human and animal contact. Some plastics can be hazardous from a fire safety perspective.
  • Natural or Real Christmas trees: Real Christmas trees (like scotch pine, douglas fir, white pine, balsam fir) are grown in the US instead of being imported from overseas- they help in keeping air clean and also provide sheltered habitat for wildlife. Natural trees make your home smell good and fresh. Real trees can be recycled unlike artificial trees, and just the act of going and searching for a real tree is invigorating and fun, as opposed to buying an artificial one. The disadvantage of natural trees is their cost - they are certainly more expensive on a unit cost basis compared to artificial ones. Additionally they are a recurring expense - you have to buy a new tree every year. They require higher maintenance - watering, cleaning, mopping needles off the floor etc.

Pre-lighted (called pre lit) vs Unlit Trees - Pre lit Christmas trees come in incandescent and LED light varieties with various colored options. Its advantage is that it can be set up very quickly. So, if you aren't too picky about a customized light color and want to decorate your tree quickly, a pre-lighted tree may be the best choice for you! Unlit trees are like a blank canvas for your creativity and allow you to choose and change the light colors as you wish. These are very popular with Christmas decorators who have a unique tree design in mind.

Select a Christmas Tree Color Scheme or Theme or Story

Once you’ve decided on the Christmas tree type, the next step is to imagine what color scheme or theme would complement the tree’s foliage in creating the mood and style of your liking. Having a theme opens up various possibilities for decorating and incorporating other items into your collection. A theme makes the tree look cohesive and complete. You should also look around the room where the tree is going to be placed and pick theme or colors that’ll go with the ambience. Sometimes people choose a theme, collect ornaments centered around that theme and then weave all that into a storytelling experience - its almost as if your tree has come to life and is trying to tell its tale! The trees' foliage tone & hue can also help in narrowing down on the desired color theme - trees with warm yellow-green foliage look good with warm-colored ornaments, while trees with cool blue-green foliage look dapper with cool-colored ornaments.

The Classic Christmas Look: This is possibly the most common and loved color theme for Christmas trees around the world. Its based on generous doses of red, white and green. Red reminds people of Santa Claus, so that explains why the red color is almost made to “come at you”. You can decorate the tree with red, green and white ornaments, garlands, ribbons etc. For lighting as well, you can use a combination of clear or white lights, that is interspersed with strands of red & green lights that are wrapped around your tree.

The Wintery Wonderland Look: This theme uses a combination of blue, silver and white. It revolves around a look and feel that’s pivoted around snow - a snowy landscape, snowcapped trees, houses and roads. For lights, you could choose clear or blue lights - or a combination of both. To get the effect of falling snow, you can surround your tree with few strands of twinkling clear mini lights over top of the base lights for extra shimmer and dazzle. Try to restrict the decorations to only white, clear and silver for that elegant wintery white wonderland themed tree. You can enhance the natural look by adding decorative crystal picks, snow covered twigs and snowflake ornaments.

Metallic Accented Look - Some Christmas trees have a strong metallic theme - gold, silver, copper or bronze. Metallic colors are easy to mix into the decorations, and you can create a shimmering effect by incorporating one or more metallic color into the design.

Rustic / lodge theme - Another popular theme for the Christmas tree is the somewhat rustic, forest lodge type look. This relies heavily on wooden decorations, pine cones, bells, snowflakes; sometimes recycled materials like driftwood are used as well. The tree can start taking a forested, environment friendly look, which people into green, rustic lifestyles love.

Animal Theme - If you have kids, chances are they love animals. What better way to celebrate Christmas than to have a animal theme Christmas tree? You could hang various animal decorations piece - felt ornaments, birch ornaments, bird tree toppers etc.

All crystal look: This is somewhat expensive - but if you’re a crystal lover, try having crystal ornaments and decoration pieces to give the tree a glassy, crystal, exquisite look. This does make the tree somewhat heavy and prone to breaking due to slippages - if you choose to do it, we suggest handling with care.

Choosing Embellishments for Christmas Tree - Ornaments, garlands, ribbons

Ornaments: Christmas tree ornaments come in a variety of shapes and sizes in boxes of four, six, twelve or more. We suggest that before you hang the ornaments on your tree, put them into logical piles. Arrange the ornaments in piles by color, size, materials or theme.

  1. Number & Size of Ornaments: This is probably the first question you have to ask yourself - how many ornaments does my tree need? There is no exact answer, it depends on what kind of look you want, or the theme you have chosen. Do you want it dense and full, or sparse and spaced out? While deciding the number, you should consider the height and width of your tree, the size of your ornaments and what type of coverage (sparse or dense) you want in the tree. The tree’s size, shape & structure determine the size of your ornaments and how many are needed. If you like the bigger / heavier ornaments, make sure the tree has sturdy enough branches to support their weight. You can refer to this handy chart as a starting point:
    Tree Height Light Coverage Dense Coverage Size of Ornaments
    4' - 6' 30 pieces 50 pieces 2” to 4”
    6' - 8' 50 pieces 80 pieces 2” to 8”
    8' - 10' 80 pieces 120 pieces 4” to 8”
    10' - 12' 120 pieces 160 pieces 4” to 8”
  2. Mixing up diff Ornament Sizes: Decorating your Christmas tree with different sized ornaments helps enhance the depth, while adding variety to its look. We suggest placing bigger ornaments near the interior of the tree, while ensuring the branches are strong enough to support their weight. Smaller sized ornaments can be put near the branch tips. The gaps in the trees can be filled up with the varying sized ornaments.
  3. Ornament Materials: The material for ornaments can be many - glass, felt, wood, fur, plastics, fibres, light metals etc. Glass ornaments are undoubtedly beautiful and graceful, but can be easily broken. Alternative could be shatter resistant ornaments, or ones made from metal, ceramic, wood, or natural fibers. From texture or finish standpoint, ornaments come in matte or glossy finishes. Feel free to mix up matte with glossy, since that gives a balanced look. You can also mix it with silver and gold and other metallics. For single colored (monochromatic) themed trees, you can use a gradation of finishes, shades and tints in that selected color.

Garland & Ribbons: Once the ornaments have been set up, your can wrap the your tree with ribbons, garlands or lights depend on your taste and the theme or color scheme chosen. Ribbons look dainty and elegant - make sure to choose one that has a sturdy mesh or wire edge, which holds its shape without toppling over. If you want a garland, we suggest starting wrapping it around about 6”-8” from the tree top. You can use some wire or twist the branches together to attach the garland to the tree. For the best look, run the garland in a corkscrew pattern - wrapping it at a fixed angle around the tree.

Setting up the Christmas Tree

Now that you have the Christmas tree, ornaments, garlands, ribbons etc selected and have a theme / color for its design, here’s how to go about setting up the tree finally. We recommend the following order - first lights, then ornaments, then garlands, ribbons and finally the tree toppings.

Lights: You should choose indoor lights that have UL certification / listing, preferably with the same colored cord as your chosen tree color or theme. You can choose between incandescent, LED or special lights - incandescent gives a warm glow, while LEDs are energy-efficient and give a cool glow. Other types of lights (i.e. novelty lights) can be used to add character and style.

Lights are usually sold on strings that contain between 100-300 lights in an average package. The number of lights for your tree needed depends on its height and the lighting density you want. A thumb rule you can follow - for low coverage, use 50 small lights per foot of tree, for medium coverage, use 100 and for heavy coverage, use 200. So for an 8 foot tree, low coverage will require 400 small lights. While putting the lights, you can choose between the following light stringing techniques -

  • Draping technique - This method uses the least number of lights and is the quickest. You can start at the top of the three and drape the lights around the tree giving it a corkscrew like appearance.
  • Triangular technique - In this method, you can divide the tree into multiple (3 or 4 max) vertical triangles by wrapping the cord in that shape.
  • Branch wrapping technique - In this method, you start at the trunk of the tree and wrap each branch to near the tip and back again. This takes a considerable amount of time and may be suited for large trees, where you want to give a densely lighted look and feel.

After the lights have been strung, you should check for any dark spots. Step back from the tree from a distance of 10 feet or so, and check if any part of the tree looks not lighted enough. This should reveal the dark spots if any, which you can rework to fill up. If you are technology savvy, consider having a smart plug for the light plug connection, using which you should be able to control it from an app on your mobile phone.

Hanging the ornaments: From the piles you have created, start placing one ornament from each of those piles around the tree. The ornaments should be evenly spaced out and be seen throughout the tree, but not symmetrically. Start hanging the ornaments from top to bottom - make sure to place the ornaments a few inches back into the branches (away from the tip), to give the tree depth and stability. It’s best if you first hang the biggest ornaments, spacing them over the tree’s height; this can be followed by medium ornaments which are placed into the branches and finally the small ornaments to fill out the small gaps and branch tips You might need different sized hooks to hang the ornaments - so keep some handy with you.

Drape Garland & Ribbon: After the ornaments, you can drape the garlands and the ribbons in a looping pattern around the branch tips, giving it a corkscrew like appearance (as explained in the previous section). Use the garland to fill in gaps between branches as you go around.

Christmas Tree Toppers: Now the last stage in the Christmas tree setup is to finish up with the tree toppers. You can choose from a wide variety of topper shapes and materials - star, angel, ribbon bow, holly leaves & berries, snowflakes etc. Place the topper at the tree tip so it stands out tall and erect, while still looking a part of the tree.

Christmas Tree Skirt: Add a Christmas 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.