First let’s set the scene. Is your favourite Christmas music on? Check. Are the lights untangled and working? Check. Are the decorations laid out? Check. Are your ornament hooks at the ready? Check. How about festive food and drinks? Check. Great! We’re good to go.
The tree is ready for it’s festive finery. If it’s a real tree, make sure that you’ve turned it all the way round to find the most pleasing side of evenly distributed, strong branches. Allow for gaps appearing between the layers of branches as the tree settles. If you can see them already, they’re only likely to get bigger. This isn’t necessarily a problem. Just ensure that you choose longer and larger decorations to hang in the more ample spaces. When decorating an artificial tree take time to ensure the branches are arranged in a suitably balanced shape.
We are going to start with the lights. If your tree is pre-lit then turn your lights on briefly to test them but don’t leave them on: you’ll ruin the big switch on later. If you are putting on strings of lights, plug them in and test them before you begin decorating. Again, switch them off once you know they are in working order.
Lights, Beads and Garlands – Put ‘Em in their Place
When placing the lights, the aim is to create an even distribution throughout the tree. With your lights turned off, place them onto the tree going from the top down. Space evenly as you wind around and down the tree. Carry the string of lights over one branch and under the next. Repeat the over and under sequence for each string of lights. Take some of the lights into the centre of the tree in places to give depth. Be patient and, indeed, be prepared to take the lights off and start again if you feel you are top-loading the tree.
Keep the wire hidden as best you can in the lush branches of the tree. The twisted wire linking each bulb normally consists of two strands. If necessary, you can gently tease the strands apart and slide a branch through the gap to hold the lights in place. You can also fix the lights to the tree with flexible green wire ornament hooks. Even bended paperclips will work. If you have an artificial tree, you can pinch back the very tips of certain branches to hold bulbs in specific places to illuminate special baubles.
If you are using garlands, beads, ribbons or soft fabrics like organza place these on the tree next. They should happily stay in position on the layers but you can always use more of those wire ornament hooks to secure them. We suggest working in layers, only creating gentle waves or zigzags.
Another decorating style that you might like to try is to integrate natural, white, gold or silver twigs into the tree. These can be used to compensate if a tree is a little thinner in parts – or to emphasise your theme if you have gone for a rustic, opulent or wintry option.
Big It Up
The largest decorations go on next. Choose sturdy branches to hold them and ensure they are spread around the tree to maintain balance. Such ornaments draw your eye to the tree and can be the potential showstoppers. Work in odd numbers (3, 5, 7 and so on) as the look may otherwise become too symmetrical. We suggest you doubly secure the exceptionally heavy baubles – the old belt and braces principle. We don’t want any heartbreaking breakages. The larger decorations should go in the bottom two-thirds of the tree, leaving space in the top third for the medium and small size baubles.
Next for your star performers – your favourite, treasured, most stunning and precious decorations that you want to have pride of place. Again if any of them are fragile, double secure them.
Mind the Gaps
Move on now to the medium and smaller sized baubles that you may have decided should be linked by a common colour. Simply place these wherever there are spaces, choosing either the medium or smaller bauble depending on the gap. Don’t forget to hang baubles towards the trunk itself as they will gather light and give the tree greater interest and depth. If you are using a couple of colours then make sure they are evenly distributed. Keep standing back to check the balance. If you are not using a profusion of beads, tinsel or garlands on your tree, slender dangling decorations – like glass or crystal icicles – are a good way of linking each layer. Look where the gaps are greatest and add the danglers. This will unify the shape of the tree yet further.
Elf Helper: If you have an especially tall tree in a corner of the room, find the top of the cornice – or a similar point on your wall – and screw in a small hook. You can now tie the top of the tree to the hook with wire or piece of twine to prevent it from falling over. This can be an issue when trees placed in a corner are decorated predominantly on one side and are weighted in one direction.
Traditionally, the topping of the tree with a star, angel or Christmas fairy is the final flourish. But if your tree is a tall one and you have the stepladders out for placing the lights, consider popping the tree-topper on at this point.
Elf Helper: If you would like to see more step-by-step samples for dressing your tree both youtube.com and videojug.com have many examples. Just type ‘how to decorate a Christmas tree’ in the respective search bars.
Skirting the Issue: How to Dress Your Tree’s Bottom
All your wonderful tree needs now is a skirt for modesty. There are several ways to dress the bottom of the tree. Some people prefer to pile the presents around the base, some like a tree skirt – others like both. Skirts can be bought from garden centres, Christmas websites and high street stores. The variety is wide. All you have to do is opt for whatever colour and style works with your scheme.
You can also make your own by draping fabric around the base. For example, you could try something as simple as off-white curtain interlining from John Lewis, before adding white fake fur fabric atop it to give a sumptuous effect. A final dressing of clear beads on white ribbon adds sparkle to the overall effect.
As long as the fabric doesn’t fray, all this can be achieved without a sewing machine. It simply requires a large enough square of fabric, folded into quarters, with a small circle cut out of the centre (around 10cm). Cut a straight line down one of the folds to allow the fabric to be pulled up towards the tree trunk. For those of you who are more adventurous, there are plenty of good websites offering patterns and ideas to create your own tree skirt.
Elf Helper: Consider a Pottery Barn Velvet Tree Skirt – deep red & green and sumptuous. The US store Pottery Barn ships overseas through Borderfree, so shipping and customs fees are conveniently paid in combination up front. The quality is excellent so we see this as a wise investment. You may also be tempted by the willow basket style tree skirts that have appeared on the shelves in recent years – good for rustic, contemporary or traditional rooms. We know one of our team had to return their willow skirt in recent years because it wasn’t wide enough for a large tree, so be careful of size. With that issue in mind, there are also half-skirts in willow: also perfect for trees in corners or against walls.
However you decide to decorate your tree, rest assured there will not be an identical tree anywhere in the world. We all have our own unique collection of decorations, garlands, lights and baubles – not to mention decorating style – ensuring each of our trees will have a very personal stamp.
But we often hear how many people struggle to create what they imagine to be their perfect tree. Many of you want a tree that is at once eye-catching and jaw dropping. No mean feat. Well, if you want to achieve a stunning tree that draws attention and beckons your guests for a closer look then you need to have a plan.
What style of decoration suits your personality?
What style of decoration suits your home?
How many colours are you going for?
Do you want a particular theme?
Do you want lots of silver and/or gold?
Do you want icy crystal or glass?
Do you want shaped decorations like snowflakes and reindeer?
Do you have personalised decorations bearing names or photos?
Do you have baubles of various sizes and materials?
Remember that at Christmas all the high street shops, DIY stores and supermarkets have their own ranges of festive items. This can often be a good way to try out a different decorative style, such as a Nordic theme, in an inexpensive way. Trends will come and go. Make a sweep of the afore-mentioned stockists and you will gain and instant overview of what’s “in” and whether or not it grabs you.
Clearly, you have to consider the room where the tree will sit. One of Mrs. C’s rooms is the palest blue and white: something to do with a snowy North Pole influence maybe? One of her glorious trees complements the room with its white and crystal theme. The tree is far more dramatic and appealing when the room and the fir complement each other. No collision of lurid colours required. We have more on this in our Rooms section.
Trees look better when they have a specific range of decorations. See the picture of tens of small red baubles of various textures, then many more medium sized baubles in the same colour. This forms the base from which you can add your individual decorations – or you can leave well alone and let the baubles steal the show. It doesn’t matter if the more personal, individual tree ornaments you might want to add are markedly different as long as you are working to a limited colour palette. Go for different textures – high sheen, satin or matt. This works especially well when you keep to just one colour.
If you want to buy colour-matched selections of decorations try christmastimeuk.com where you can buy all your ornaments and trimmings on a number of themes in one fell swoop. See our Baubles & Ornaments page for other ideas and stockists.
Mix inexpensive, but good quality, baubles with more costly decorations placed prominently on the tree. The inexpensive baubles act as a support group to the main event. You don’t have to buy the quality decorations in one go – half the fun is adding a few additional and rather delightful pieces of tree ‘bling’ each year.
Choose coloured ribbons to rethread some of your decorations to give them a new twist or to fit into your fresh theme. Don’t be afraid to drape swirls of beautiful wired ribbon around your tree. Think of it as tinsel for the tasteful. Continue the coloured ribbon theme through the house. Hang ribbon-adorned decorations from curtain rails and banisters. Tie ribbon to garlands, wreaths and sprigs of greenery. Wrap ribbon around vases, napkins and cake stands, allowing you to unify your colour scheme still further. And, of course, choose the same colour ribbon for your gift-wrapping.
Try not to be too chic, too cute or too clever at the expense of being personal and true to yourself. The intimate, personal touches matter more at Christmas. Personalised name baubles and frame decorations are perfect for making the tree unique to you and your loved ones. Mrs. C likes to decorate one of her trees with baubles that have a special significance – that remind her of places she has visited or friends who have given her the decorations as gifts. We also love her idea for children to choose a special bauble each year as they grow so that when they finally fly the nest they have their own special Christmas decoration collection to take with them.
There is so much choice at Christmas and each of us will have our own favourites – whether it be a traditional red, green and gold Christmas or a more contemporary purple, pink and cyan colour Yuletide. Glass and crystal, metal and plastic, satin and felt – the range of materials is huge. To help you, we at How to Christmas, have provided you with a mood-board guide for a host of Christmas themes you might enjoy and employ.
Use: vibrant colours like purple, orange and turquoise; go stark and bold with silver on black or blue on white; try spots and dots and stripes Think: clean and simple lines, irregular and angular shapes Feature: typography, tinsel, shiny plastic Consider: feathers, linen, glass and mirrored surfaces.
Use: red, green and gold Think: holly, ivy, stars, snowflakes and bells Feature: Santa, snowmen, robins and angels Consider: tartan print, satin bows, paper-chains and tinsel.
Use: ivory, cream and gold Think: crystal, distressed gold/silver, scrolls and filigree Feature: cupids and angels Consider: velvet, braids, bows, swirls and mirrored surfaces.
Use: red, grey, white and natural shades of brown Think: snowflakes, metal, wood, wool, felt and fur Feature: reindeer, skis, skates and sleds Consider: cross-stitch, bells, lanterns and hearts.
Use: white, green, natural shades of brown and grey Think: foliage, felt and fur; wood, wool and wicker Feature: deer, owls, hares and birds Consider: hessian, metal, twigs, berries and fir-cones.
Use: burgundy, soft pink, gold and silver Think: velvet, lace, brass, braid and satin Feature: angels, children, fruit, candles and sugar-plumbs Consider: tartan ribbon, damask print, holly and ivy.
Use: pastel colours, muted shades and distressed gold/silver Think: teardrops, textured glass, mirrored surfaces and beads Feature: cherubs, teddy bears, dolls Consider: the printed word, musical notes on fabric/paper and candy canes.