How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

When it comes to the holiday season, putting up the Christmas tree is truly an annual highlight for me.  And like most things in life, we usually are the way we are because of our parents in some form or fashion.  Well, growing up in my house, putting up the tree was a Big (with a capital B) deal for my mom and a much anticipated day.  She is great at decorating for the holidays and now as an adult with my own tree, I took to some of her skills and more importantly, I have kept the tradition of making tree decorating a Big deal (with another capital B).  And so here are my tips on how to decorate a Christmas tree (disclaimer – I grew up with a faux tree so yes, you guessed it…as an adult, I have a faux tree):

The Pre-Work
Plan the day in advance and anticipate it being an all-day project (ahem, yes, I sent Rick a calendar appointment weeks in advance and ahem, yes, he thinks I am nuts).  There is nothing worse than rushing through the special moments in life and this is no different.  The point of putting up a tree is to enjoy it.  So, enjoy it, enjoy the process and allot ample time to do so.

Get the boxes out of storage the day or night before.  I like doing this so that I don’t have to spend time doing it on the actual day I am decorating.  I want the day of decorating to be enjoyable and hauling boxes from storage is not overly enjoyable.

Test your lights.  There is nothing more annoying than being in the groove, midway through lighting your tree and you don’t have enough lights as some strands are burned out.  I have learned this lesson the hard way more than once and this year was no different.  I literally had two more strands of lights to put on and the lights I had were burned out.  #buzzkill

The Day Of
Set the tone.  Just like a dinner party or a wedding shower or whatever the occasion is, when you set the tone in your home it makes the event that much better.  For me, that is playing the moving Elf (favorite Christmas movie, obviously) and lighting some great Christmas scented candles.  This year my candle was “White Christmas” made by Yankee Candle company.  My whole house smelled like Christmas!

The Lights
I am convinced that what makes some trees beautiful and some trees, well, less beautiful are the lights and more specifically, quantity of lights.  Don’t go all Clark Griswold, but be generous with the amount of lights you put on your tree! For me, I actually have a pre-lit tree and then I add about 1,000 – 1,200 more lights on that bad boy.  You just can’t ever have enough lights!

How you put the lights on the tree is equally important to the quantity of lights you put on.  When stranding your tree, it’s important to ensure you are stranding from the inside out.  Meaning, strand each branch seperately, starting at the core branch near the trunk of the tree and then work your way out to the limbs/outer portion of the branch.  This gives the lighting much more depth and pop!

White, colored or a combo?  Historically I have done colored with a few strands of white to increase the brightness.  This turns out great.  This year I decided to rock the all-white lights to keep it elegant and to not compete with the colored ornaments.  While it’s a personal perference, I do think you should think about what else is in the room your tree is in.  Is it busy?  Do you have colored lights in other places?  Perhaps white would be best.  Do you have basic ornaments that are more neutral overall?  Perhaps colored would add a nice pop to the tree.  I actually don’t have a strong recommendation on the color of the lights, other than making sure you think about the overall space and what type of ornaments you have on the tree.

As you are stranding, take a step back 3-4 times and look at the tree from different angles in your home and from a distance.  That’s when you can see areas you have missed or areas that the lights are not dispersed evenly.  It’s all about perspective!

The Ornaments
The fun part!  My personal opinion is a tree should tell a story.  And the way to tell a story is through the ornaments.  Over the years I have collected ornaments from all over the world, I have received ornaments as gifts and I have bought some beautiful ones at stores like Pottery Barn and World Market.  I would say 75% or more of the ornaments on my tree tell a story and bring me back to a memory that warms my heart.  So my tip is to have your ornaments tell a story and as you unpack the boxes of ornaments, let those ornaments bring you a heart of thanksgiving for the person who gave it to you, the place you traveled or just the mere beauty of the ornament itself.   Here are some of my favorite ornaments.

My baby ornament that my mom gave me! It’s almost 33 years old!

Memories of a great trip to Newport, Rhode Island!

Saw the Cirque du Soleil show, Elvis, with my mom, aunts and sister in Las Vegas.

A gift from my sister – a picture of my mom and dad on their wedding day!

Very fond memories of Quebec City…and how beautiful is this one?!

Bought this with my best friend, Sarah, at the Randolph Market in Chicago as it TOTALLY reminded me of the ornaments my grandma used to have on her tree!  So ugly it’s pretty, right?

Try to find a Christmas ornament in India…I dare ya! I did but the catch was that they weren’t Christmas ornaments…they were restaurant decorations.

One of my first and most favorite bosses bought me this…I always smile when I hang this one! Thanks Sarah K. 😉

A new addition this year, thanks to Pottery Barn. I am a self-proclaimed photographer and snatched this up right when I saw it. It’s so cute!

Every tree has to have a bird on it (and it’s the last ornament you are supposed to put on the tree). Love this one, thanks to my sister!

Where to hang ornaments is also essential to making your tree the best it can be (yes, that sounded like a self-help Dr. Phil quote).  Heavier, bigger ornaments go on the bottom of the tree, medium size and medium weight in the center and smaller, lighter ones on top.  Pretty simple.  The other piece to this, however, is that they hang.  Each ornament should hang from a branch (my litmus test is if I flicked the ornament, does it swing back and forth or does it not?  It should swing…that’s when you know you have hung them right!).

Don’t have a wide variety of ornaments?  Do your ornaments not tell a story?  It’s okay!  You have to start somewhere.  My recommendation is to buy filler ornaments (plain metallic balls, for example) and just pick up ornaments as you go.  But, don’t just buy them to buy them.  Buy them because you love them!  Let friends and family know you’d like an ornament or two in your stocking this year! And pick ornaments up throughout the year…I promise it makes decorating your tree that much better when you get to take a walk down memory lane 🙂

Similar to the lights, it’s important to stop, walk away from tree (trust me, you will want to anyways) and look at the tree from different angles.  Even as I type this I am noticing certain areas of my tree have holes where another 1-2 ornaments need to go.  Also, it’s helpful to turn off the lights on the tree to get a clearer view of how the ornaments look.  Sometimes the lights can distract you from noticing if your tree has uneven ornament distribution (hmmm…uneven ornament distribution…sounds like I need to talk to my therapist about this…).

The Bling
The next step in decorating is adding a bit of bling to round out the tree and give it some glimmer and glow.  I don’t have a strong opinion on what to do here, apart from making it flow with the tree and your overall sense of decor.  This year I have shimmery gold swirly sticks (yeah, I am pretty sure that’s not what they are actually called) that I stick into the tree.  Some people use garland or tinsel.  If you go to Michael’s, Home Depot or even Target, you are sure to find some bling.

The Tree Topper
I am not a fan of the traditional angel as a tree topper, but again, it’s personal preference.  To keep in with the gold bling I added, I have a gold bow that’s simple, but classy.  I have had this for years and haven’t found anything else and I like the way it looks with the ornaments, white lights and gold bling sticks.

The Tree Skirt
I love all things monogrammed and personal and the tree skirt is a perfect opportunity to do that!  A picture of mine is below and I bought the matching stockings as well (from Pottery Barn).  I have also heard of people using their family tree skirt growing up, getting one made by someone you know who sews, or just getting a basic one at any store that goes with your Christmas theme.  About five years ago, I literally used an old bridesmaid dress as my tree skirt.  Get creative, people!


The Finale
And, here is the finished Christmas tree product!  Happy holidays 🙂  I’d love to hear your tips and tricks, so please comment or send me a note to share!


3 responses

  1. It looks beautiful Ann!
    I just put my tree up a couple days ago, but mine is super skinny and small – a bit like the Peanuts’ tree 🙂 I’d love to one day have a lot of special ronaments, I only have a couple for now, but hopefully the collection will grow. I also love the monogrammed tree skirt.
    Thanks for all the tips!
    PS. Elf is one of my favorties as well

  2. I couldn’t agree more…it’s funny, every ornament on my tree..I know exactly who bought it for me, the special meaning behind it, the place I visited, or who made it! 🙂 It’s probably my favorite thing to do, open my ornaments…and remember the memories. Awwwww….I think I just teared up. Love this post! Happy Christmas! I even have a Cubs ornament on my tree this year…Rob loves it…but its in the back of the tree..LOL!

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