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Follow these 6 steps to decorate your Christmas tree like a pro

There’s way more to it than ornaments

Four people decorate a Christmas tree with ornaments. Credit: Getty Images / gilaxia

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. You’ve just brought in a grand and fragrant noble fir, or, less romantically, unpacked your artificial Christmas tree. There’s a box of baubles and ribbons on the floor, and O Tannenbaum playing in the background.

While it’s easy for unbridled excitement to take over as you hit the gas and go full steam into decorating your tree, we recommend you slow down just a bit. A well-trimmed Christmas tree takes time to achieve. Much as you would dress yourself in style for a chilly winter day, the best way to dress your tree is in layers.

We’ve asked holiday décor experts for step-by-step instructions on how to decorate a Christmas tree for your most spectacular holiday season yet.

Step 1: Pick a theme

Four themed Christmas trees.
Credit: Getty Images / loops7

What will you choose as your theme?

What’s your pleasure—are you going for a colorful show (perhaps sparking silver and blue or a traditional red and gold) or a specific décor element (winter wonderland, woodsy and rustic)? Whichever overall look you want to achieve, be sure to keep your décor items in line with your Christmas wish.

Lewis Puleo, vice president of Puleo International, America’s oldest family-owned artificial Christmas tree company, says, “Most opt to decorate their Christmas tree using traditional color themes, coordinating all decorations—whether it’s from the topper, ornaments, or garlands—to fit into these color schemes. Non-traditional decoration colors are also growing in popularity, such as purple, black and white, and pastels.”

Another consideration is whether you want to stick with store-bought décor or go natural with materials such as pine cones, twigs, holly leaves, red berries, or pampas grass, a natural material that’s become popular for decorating in 2021.

Step 2: Fluff up the tree

A Christmas tree inside a box.
Credit: Getty Images / DonNichols

Dust your Christmas tree off for another holiday.

Whether you’ve taken a faux one out of your attic or cut down the real deal from a forest, every tree deserves some upfront TLC.

“The best way to start decorating a Christmas tree is to make sure the tree you’re decorating is prepped first,” Puleo recommends.

Start by fluffing and shaping your branches to make sure your tree looks its fullest. This will also allow you to see if there are any holes that need filling.

“Decide which side of the tree will be your front and which will be the back. Choose the side you think will be the prettiest as your focal point,” says Puleo.

Step 3: Hang the lights

Close up of a Christmas tree with string lights.
Credit: Getty Images / Andrey Zhuravlev

Let there be light.

If there’s one time to shine, it’s during Christmas. When it comes to getting the right kind of string lights for the tree, you have several options to choose from, including traditional incandescent, energy efficient LED, soft vintage-y globes, and super quirky bubble lights that resemble mini lava lamps.

Nothing says holiday spirit more than a Christmas tree that’s seemingly illuminated from within. To achieve this dynamic look, Puleo suggests using the plug of the lights as your starting point and wrapping the lights around the trunk of the tree first, working your way up.

This process may be time-consuming, but for the best effect, wrap your lights around every major branch, moving from the trunk to the tip and back, fluffing the branches as you work your way around.

Puleo’s pro tip: “Make sure to test [the lights] first before adding them to your tree to make sure all the bulbs are working!”

Step 4: Add garland

Threaded garland for a Christmas tree made of cranberries and popcorn.
Credit: Getty Images / DustyPixel

Make your own garland with cranberries and popcorn.

Beads, flocked boughs, ribbon, cranberries, or popcorn strung together by your kiddos—whatever you decide to use as garland offers a professional-looking touch without a ton of trouble.

When planning how much garland you’ll need to buy or create, calculate about two strands for every vertical foot of tree. If your tree is 7 feet tall, you’ll need 14 strands.

Beginning at the tree top, work your way down the branches and slowly increase the amount of garland between each wave. This keeps the branches from bulging between the cinched garland strands.

According to Brad Schmidt of Brad Schmidt Designs and a Los Angeles-based contributing designer to superstar artificial tree company Balsam Hill, wired ribbons are good for sculpting into loops and rolls. They hold shape better than non-wired ones.

“For a 7- to 8-foot tree you would need at least two bolts of 10 yards,” Schmidt explains. “Cut it into 3- to 4-foot pieces, and, starting from the top, weave it in and out of the tree.”

You’re aiming for what Schmidt calls “a candy cane effect.” Finish by cutting the ends at an angle or curl up the ends like a croissant.

Step 5: Add ornaments

A green ornament hangs on a Christmas tree branch.
Credit: Getty Images / art Photo

Add some eye-catching finishing touches with ornaments.

Consider ornaments as important as the colorful finishing touches on a Christmas pavlova: The dessert itself is beautiful, but the berries add pops of personality and fun.

Ornaments offer you the opportunity to showcase your favorite holiday treasures, tie together a gorgeous theme, and create a show-stopping centerpiece of your holiday celebration.

Begin by placing your favorite ornaments in prime positions on the tree. Then move on to your themed baubles, like balls and shaped embellishments. To hang them, Schmidt secures four-inch-pieces of green floral wire to each ornament and attaches them to the branches.

“When you start using ornaments, start with the large balls first, spreading them out at different depths,” says Schmidt.

Then continue with the next size down, until you are ready for your smaller ornaments. Schmidt recommends clustering three baubles of different sizes to add flair and visual appeal.

He places finial ornaments at the end on the edge or tips of the branches, so they hang evenly and straight, not crooked.

Word to the wise: Place glass and precious ornaments higher than roaming toddlers and furry friends can reach.

Step 6: Add a tree topper

A child tops a Christmas tree with a gold star.
Credit: Getty Images / dolgachov

Go traditional for your tree topper with a gold star or try something new like a giant red bow.

The Christmas tree topper is the best way to put an exclamation point on your holiday statement tree. Choose one that best suits your theme and keep the proportion of your tree in mind (as well as the height of your ceiling). Traditional trees boast an angel or a gold star, but feel free to show off your personality with a homemade topper or a giant velvet bow.

Puleo adds, “Finish with a tree skirt at the base of the tree,” or a tree collar, trendy for 2021. “Add wrapped presents, and voilà you have a beautiful holiday tree.”

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