10 Simple Steps for Decorating a Christmas Tree

Decorating your Christmas tree will be easier than ever with our simple step-by-step guide for making your festive tree look fabulous!

mum and daughter decorating a Christmas tree together, both wearing red and white Santa hats

Whether you prefer a real Christmas tree or an artificial one, large or small, Christmas really gets started once you have decorated your Christmas tree. It’s a lovely activity to do as a family or just by yourself with a glass of something delicious, a mince pie or two and Christmas songs playing in the background. 

But if you haven’t had to decorate a Christmas tree by yourself before, you might not know quite where to start. Do the Christmas lights go on first or last? And how do you place ornaments on a Christmas tree?

Our handy step by step guide to trimming the Christmas tree is packed full of tips and ideas on how to decorate a Christmas tree. Follow these steps and you’ll soon have a beautifully decorated Christmas tree that’s ready for the festive season.

And when Christmas is over, don’t forget to check back for our tips on how to store your Christmas decorations!

You will need:

  • A Christmas tree, real or artificial 
  • A tree stand or pot for a real tree if your tree doesn’t come with a pot
  • A tree skirt or tinsel to decorate the base of your tree
  • Christmas tree lights, unless you have a pre-lit artificial Christmas tree
  • Christmas tree decorations including baubles, beads, garlands and clip on decorations
  • A tree topper, which could be a new purchase or a family heirloom

These extras might also be useful:

  • Clips for Christmas tree lights are an optional extra to help keep your string lights securely attached
  • Christmas decoration hooks will make it easier to hang your decorations
  • A timer plug makes it easier to turn your Christmas lights on and off if the socket is difficult to reach
  • A step stool or stepladder will help you to safely reach the top of your Christmas tree

Where to place your Christmas tree

It’s important to consider where you’re going to place your tree before you actually buy it, so that you pick the right size tree for the space. 

Look for somewhere which is close to a socket so that trailing power cables won’t become a trip hazard. And make sure that you have a clear walkway past your tree so that people won’t knock decorations off as they squeeze past.

If you have small children or pets, you might need to place your tree out of reach so that they can’t damage the decorations. And if you have a real Christmas tree, it’s important not to place it too close to a direct heat source such as a radiator or fire which could dry out your tree and cause it to drop its needles too soon.

Close-up of child hanging a red bauble on Christmas tree branch

Step 1: Before you start

Check your Christmas tree lights all work by laying the lights out on the floor and switching them on. This will save the frustration of finding out that your lights don’t work after you’ve placed all of your ornaments. Unless you’re using brand new lights, it’s a good idea to check over the wires and plug to make sure that there are no signs of damage.

If you’re using a tree skirt, check if it needs to be slotted over the base of your tree or if it wraps around the tree and fastens at the back. You don’t want to decorate your tree and then find that you can’t add the skirt.

And slipping a piece of cardboard under your tree’s stand or pot will stop it scratching your floor or marking the carpet. This will also make it easier to make any little adjustments to the tree’s position.

Step 2: Set up your tree

The next step is to set up your Christmas tree. You might want to place it slightly forward from the position that you chose so that you can easily reach all around it to place your lights and decorations.

If you’ve decided to have a real Christmas tree, place it securely in a stand or pot. You may need to trim some of the branches to neaten up the shape.

Artificial Christmas trees will come with a base so you just need to make sure that it’s sitting on a flat surface and can’t topple over. Fluff the branches and twist them into position to give it a fuller appearance and fill in any big gaps between the branches.

If your tree skirt needs to be put on before you start decorating, make sure you do this now. If it wraps around the tree, you can leave this until later.

Close up of a woman's hands adding a Christmas bauble to a Christmas tree. She is wearing a Christmas jumper decorated with Santa faces

Step 3: Add the lights

The Christmas tree lights should be the first addition to your Christmas tree – it’s much easier to put these on before you start adding baubles and ribbons. You could use white Christmas lights for a classic look or choose coloured fairy lights for a more modern and contemporary theme. Reckon on using 100 lights for each foot of tree (e.g. 600 lights for a six foot tree) for good coverage but feel free to add more lights if you want a more dazzling display.

Start with the end of the string of lights that’s furthest away from the plug and work from the top of the tree downwards. Drape the wires over the branches in a spiral from top to bottom, spreading the lights out evenly as you go. You can either use clips for Christmas lights to secure them or wrap the string around a branch every so often. Pushing the lights back into the foliage will help to disguise the wires and will also create more depth to your display, giving your tree a soft glow of light.

Once you’re happy with how you’ve arranged your lights, plug them in and stand back to check for any dark patches on the tree.

Step 4: Place garlands, beads and ribbons

Next you need to add any ribbons, strings of beads, tinsel or garlands to your Christmas tree. This will add texture and help to reduce the number of baubles you need for a really full display.

Use different textures and thicknesses to add interest, with thicker ribbons running around the bottom branches and delicate strings of beads further up the Christmas tree. You could also try running wide ribbons or garlands vertically from the top of the tree towards the bottom.

Sprays of foliage can also help to add interest to your tree. You can either buy artificial foliage or mix in some real foliage to add a natural touch to an artificial tree.

Close up of a woman's hands adding a Christmas bauble to a Christmas tree. She is wearing a Christmas jumper decorated with Santa faces

Step 5: Add any sentimental decorations

It’s time to start adding the baubles and other decorations to your Christmas tree. Your collection might include some decorations that have special sentimental value – perhaps your children made them at nursery, you’ve inherited them from family or bought them on a special holiday. 

Add these decorations to your tree first so that you can make sure that they sit in prominent positions. Any other favourite decorations can go on the tree at this point as well.

Before you go any further, step back for another check to make sure that you’re happy with the positioning of your most special decorations.

Step 6: Add larger baubles

Now you can add the rest of your baubles and ornaments to your Christmas tree.

It’s a good idea to have a few boxes of ‘filler’ baubles on hand to fill out your display, giving your tree a luxurious appearance. Place the plainer baubles first to give your tree a base of colour, working from the bottom of the tree up to the top branches. Larger baubles should go on the lower branches for a more balanced look and hanging them closer to the trunk will help to prevent the branch from sagging.

Be sure to mix up baubles of different shapes and materials to avoid clumps of the same design, and add the more elaborate baubles last. Placing them around eye level will give them the most impact.

Step 7: Fill in the gaps 

Once you have placed all of your large baubles and any special decorations, you can fill in any spaces that are left in between them. 

Use smaller baubles in the spaces towards the top of the tree and fill any gaps further down with some clip on decorations like birds and reindeer. 

Step 8: A final check

Now it’s time for one final check to make sure that you’re happy with the overall look. So stand back and take a look at your tree from a distance to make sure that you haven’t left any gaps in your decorations. 

You should also check for areas of the tree where there are too many of the same colour or size of bauble, so that the overall look of your tree is balanced. And don’t forget to check from different areas of the room to make sure it looks good from any angle.

A young man adding a red star topper to a fully decorated Christmas tree

Step 9: Add a Christmas tree topper

Like the cherry on top of a cake, the tree topper adds a final flourish to your Christmas tree. You could go traditional with a star or a large ribbon bow, bring out an old family favourite like a fairy or Santa Claus, or look for something more modern and unique.

If you can’t reach up to the top of your Christmas tree and you don’t have anyone tall nearby, be sure to use a step stool to help you place your topper safely.

Step 10 – The finishing touches

If you’ve had your tree pushed forward while you’ve been decorating it, it’s time to carefully move it back into position. It’s a good idea to get some help with this, because the last thing you want is for your tree to topple over now!

Once you’re happy with its final position, cover up the stand and your lighting cables with a tree skirt or by wrapping some tinsel around the base of the tree. You could also use some oversized baubles, Christmas room decorations or even stacks of gift wrapped boxes.

Now your Christmas tree is decorated for the festive season, complete with twinkling lights and beautiful decorations. All that’s left to do is to place your Christmas gifts around the bottom of the tree ready for Christmas Day, sit back with a glass of mulled wine and enjoy the results of all your hard work!

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