Even if I wasn’t a huge fan of the holiday season, I still think I’d put a Christmas tree in my home and decorate it. In this season where we spend more hours in the dark than the light, there is something so peaceful and inspiring about spending the end of each evening, snuggled up on the couch or in a favorite chair, in front of a beautifully decorated and illuminated tree.
Christmas Tree Decorating 101
Whether this is your first holiday season on your own or you’re simply interested in new tips for designing a Christmas tree that will do your photos justice, the following is a little Christmas (or holiday…) Tree 101 Tutorial that will keep you on track.
Provide a firm foundation
The last thing you want is to put the shining star on top, only to have the entire tree come crashing down…believe me, it happens pretty often. If the tree will be placed on carpet, I recommend getting a large, firm plastic mat or a piece of plywood that is as wide as the widest branches of the tree. This will provide firmer footing for the tree stand.
If you have an artificial tree, do spend time walking all around the edges and adjust branches so they are evenly spaced and positioned. This will help to balance the weight. If you go the live tree route (don’t you love that fresh, pine scent in your home?), then invest in a high-quality stand. The cheap ones are flimsy and they don’t often do a very good job of supporting a medium-large to larger tree.
Make sure you get the tree snug, all the way down to the bottom of the stand. Tighten the clamps enough to securely hold the tree in position. Once the tree is rotated to show off its best branches forward, fill the base with water. After that, I recommend putting in a couple handfuls of ice cubes every other day – or as needed – so you don’t have to crouch uncomfortably and mind the decorations when it’s time to re-water.
Light’s first, then action
If you have a pre-lit, artificial tree, you can skip this step. Otherwise, always put your lights on the tree first, before you add any other decorations. It will drive the kids nuts having to wait patiently as you finish, but the final results will be worth the wait.
The best way to do it is to start at the bottom and work your way out, moving from the inside of the tree to the outside. Make sure each of the major branches is sufficiently lighted. I like to have the lights on while I perform this task so I can keep stepping back and readjusting the lights’ position as necessary. When they’re off, it’s more difficult to tell what the overall effect is. After the lights are in their final position, I turn them off so our household can enjoy our official “Christmas Tree Lighting” arter the last of the decorations is added.
If you haven’t done so already, make this the year that you trade in your old holiday lights for LED versions. Yes, they are pricier but the energy you save and the extra years of shining lights you’ll gain are well worth it.
Unroll the garland
Is your family a garland family? I’ve noticed that some people are and some aren’t. If you are, now’s the time to apply it. If you aren’t, and you have young children, I highly recommend going the old fashioned, plain popcorn and cranberry stringing route. It’s fun, it gets the whole family involved and it looks lovely when added to the tree. The key to keeping your cranberry-popcorn garland from looking too cheesy is to add more cran than pop. You can also add cinnamon sticks, pinecones and other natural fodder to round out the look.
Hang the ornaments
Once it’s time to hang the ornaments, I recommend the following system.
- First, hand your very favorite ornaments so they are all guaranteed to have a prime, visible spot on the tree. Balance them out accordingly.
- Next, hand the larger ornaments. These ornaments need more space. By hanging them next, you can find all the right “big space” locations so the ornaments fit well. Otherwise, there is quite a bit of ornament re-juggling to be done later in order to make it all look proportional.
- Finally, fill in the remaining spaces with your medium and smaller size ornaments.
I can’t tell you how many years I (a professional designer, no less) used to hang ornaments willy-nilly by eye – – and then spent small portions of each day thereafter amending or adjusting. Now that I use the above system, I am typically finished when the last ornament is hung – give or take a few trades here and there.