How to Decorate a Christmas Tree You'll Want to Gaze at All Season

How-To Guides
by How-To Guides

Every year, cities, towns, and homes transform into joyful scenes in celebration of Christmas. A sea of lights lines rooftops and fences and drapes over surrounding shrubs.

Wreaths and statuesque nutcrackers decorate doorways. Carolers' soft hymns swirl through the air. But perhaps the biggest, most cherished part of the holiday season is the beloved Christmas tree.

If you’ve decorated a Christmas tree before, you may have realized that there’s a sort of science to it. Should lights be strung before or after ornaments? How do I hang a garland so it doesn’t look frumpy? Where’s the best spot in the home to place a Christmas tree? Can I even fit a Christmas tree in my space?

We’re here to answer all those questions; this guide will share everything you need to know about how to decorate a Christmas tree.

For even more ideas, see Hometalk's ultimate guide to DIY Christmas decor here.

Where to put a Christmas tree

Where to Put Your Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree is the centerpiece of holiday decor. You spend money on it, time on it, and make space for it, so where you put it matters.

The most popular locations are in a corner by a window, center stage in the family room, and in the foyer next to the staircase. Where to put the Christmas tree in your home depends on many factors, like the following:


While the Christmas tree is certainly the star of the show, it’s important that it’s still out of the way. Place it in a spot so that no branches obstruct doorways or common pathways in the home. The size of the tree also comes into play here—real or artificial, be sure to purchase a tree that can fit snugly in a spot without taking up space in a common pathway.


The tree should be set up where it can be seen from many angles. It should also be in a place where it can serve as the focal point. In the foyer, it’s the first thing people see. In the family room, it’s placed where people spend the most time. Near a window allows the tree to be viewed by passersby.


Keep your tree out of the way of a radiator, heat source, or fireplace. Not only can trees be a fire hazard, but keeping them around these sources can block forced air from reaching parts of your home, potentially leading to higher energy bills. This is important regardless of whether you use a real or faux tree.

How to keep your kids, pets, and Christmas tree safe

How to Pick a Christmas Tree for Your Space

The first thing to consider when picking a Christmas tree is where you want to display it. 

Small spaces with tall ceilings deserve a tall but thin Christmas tree. Lower ceilings with spacious rooms can accommodate something short but nice and plump.

To understand just how much space your tree can take up, measure your floor space and ceiling height before choosing a tree. Then, plan to leave six to 12 inches of space between the top of your tree and the ceiling to allow room for the tree topper. And don’t forget to measure the stand the tree will rest in!

Here are common Christmas tree sizes and what types of spaces they’re best for:

  • Mini trees under three feet are ideal for small spaces and tabletop displays. 
  • Medium-height trees, ranging from three to six feet tall, are great for homes with average ceilings heights of seven to eight feet.
  • For ceiling heights in the eight to nine-foot range, you may want to choose a larger tree six to eight feet tall.
  • For vaulted ceilings or those above nine feet, you have the option to choose a tree over eight feet

If you choose an artificial tree, you’ll know the exact dimensions of the tree, making for less error when determining your space layout. There are plenty of options to choose from, whether it’s a half-tree design ideal for tight spaces, thin and tall trees, short and wide ones, tabletop trees, and more.

Plain Christmas tree

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

Decorating a Christmas tree requires some patience and know-how of your planned aesthetic. And don’t forget to have fun! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, after all. 

Tools and Materials Needed

  • Tape measure
  • Step stool/ladder
  • Tree skirt
  • Tree stand
  • Gloves to protect hands when shaping branches
  • Christmas lights
  • Garland
  • Ribbon
  • Ornaments

1. Measure Your Space, Choose Your Tree

Measure the height of your ceiling, subtracting the height of your stand and the tree topper you want (or give yourself about a foot of space here). Clear your space and measure the width and depth you plan for your tree to take up.

Then, either head to a Christmas tree farm for the real deal, or pick up an artificial tree with all your measurements readily available.

2. Plan Your Theme

Deciding on a theme before choosing your decorations ensures the finished product sets a clear scene, instead of a jumbled mess. Consider themes that match your home’s style but, most importantly, are authentic to you and your family.

Popular themes include retro, boho, classic, Candyland, and country plaid. Or maybe you want to take decorate by color, whether it’s taking a monochromatic tone or combining two to three colors that match your style.

Take your time to scroll Pinterest or flip through your favorite magazines to decide what Christmas tree theme or style suits your home best.

Setting up the Christmas tree

3. Put Up the Tree

Once you bring the tree home, stand the tree upright, tightening it into the stand where you want it placed in the home. Cut off any mesh holding the tree together. Remove any branches that may have torn near the bottom of the tree while getting it situated. For a real tree, be sure to fill the base with clean water.

4. Let the Tree Set, Then Fluff and Shape

The tree will likely be a little matted from travel or its box; allow the branches to fall for a few hours, then fluff and shape the branches before decorating. This will help create the most appealing, voluminous tree. Separate and bend branches to fill any empty spaces.

Using a blanket as a tree skirt

5. Add the Tree Skirt

Not only does adding a tree skirt hide the stand, but it’ll catch any falling needles if you have a real tree. Also, we’d be remiss not to mention that tree skirts serve as a nice decorative base for displaying presents.

Tree collars, or decorative bands that wrap around and conceal the tree stand, are also a popular option, but they don’t come with the added benefit of catching pine needles and creating a base for presents to lay on.

If your tree skirt is wrinkled after months of storage, take an iron or steamer to it before placing it under the tree.

Adding Christmas lights

6. Check for Shortages

As you pull out the decoration boxes, plug in all your lights to check for shorts and trouble spots. The last thing you want is to go through the work of stringing the tree, only to find that half the lights don’t work!

7. Add the Lights

Always add the lights as the first step in decorating. Prepare to use 100 lights for every 1.5 feet of tree.

Use the plug as the starting point, wrapping the lights around the tree’s trunk and working your way upward toward the center of the base of the tree.

Wrap the lights evenly around the branches closest to the trunk, then move upwards to the middle and then the crown. Upon reaching the crown, work your way back downwards, focusing on the outer branches as you make your way toward the bottom base of the tree again.

Different size Christmas lights on a tree

As you weave, alternate between positioning the bulbs under a branch and over a branch. Weave until the tips of the branches are reached, adding more lights to your line as needed.

When you're done, step away from the tree and turn down any overhead lights. Fill in any dark patches on the tree by rearranging the lights that are strung throughout.

Make a Tree Look More Full

Stick faux branches and plants into any bare spots on the tree to make it look more full. These are also great tools for hiding string light cords and connectors.

8. Place Your Tree Topper

Consider placing your tree topper on before adding ornaments. This way, you don’t have to worry about knocking anything off as you stretch on a step stool or ladder to place the topper. Also, by already having the topper on the tree, you’ll better know how to decorate with ornaments near the top of the tree.

9. Add Garland

If you choose to decorate with garland, add it before hanging any ornaments. Begin with one end of the garland at the crown of the tree and work your way down, wrapping it around and draping it on the branches as you go.

For a more casual look, drape the garland unevenly and sporadically. To create a formal look, layer it in equal loops.

Try a Ribbon

Find a wide-wired ribbon in a color or pattern you like to use on your tree, around banisters, and on mantels. Cut the ribbon into two or three-foot sections and tuck them into the tree to give it shape and volume.

Tucking ornaments into the tree

10. Add Ornaments

Time to turn up the Christmas tunes and get to hanging! Here are some tips for hanging ornaments:

  • Alternate between more intricate, personal ornaments, and generic bulbs (red, green, silver, gold). 
  • Be mindful of alternating between ornament sizes. Offset large ornaments with smaller ones.
  • The same goes for ornament statement level: Balance out glitzy, shiny eye-catching ornaments with more dainty ones or simple bulbs.
Attaching ornaments with hooks
  • Space ornaments out so they are not overlapping. 
  • Don’t place a heavy ornament directly above a lighter ornament, as the heavy one is bound to hang down over the one below.
  • Avoid hanging ornaments on the tips of branches, where the slightest nudge can cause them to fall off.
  • Don’t forget to hang ornaments near the trunk! Doing so will add depth. 
How to decorate a Christmas tree

Tips for Keeping Your Real Tree Looking Good

To keep a real Christmas tree looking fresh all holiday season, first and foremost, choose a healthy Christmas tree at the farm. Choose a green tree with a minimal amount of brown needles. If you run your fingers through a few branches, or pick up the tree and drop the trunk to the ground, very few needles should fall off.

Upon checking out, request that the seller make a fresh cut to the trunk to promote water absorption. When at home, be diligent about watering. Stands should provide one quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Check the water level daily to make sure it’s fully covering the cut end of the trunk. 

Keeping a lower temperature in the room where the Christmas tree is displayed may slow down the drying process. Avoid placing the tree near a regularly-used fireplace or other sources of heat, such as air ducts and stoves (also, as we mentioned above, this is important for safety reasons). 

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

By following the steps above, you can confidently and easily decorate your own Christmas tree with your favorite ornaments, lights, and decorations. Remember to have fun and enjoy the process!

Do you love decorating for Christmas? What’s your theme this year?

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