How to Decorate a Christmas Tree in 3 Easy Steps

Get ready to deck the halls with our editors’ best tips for Christmas tree decorating.

One of my favorite things to do every Christmas season is driving or walking through neighborhoods and catching glimpses of festive Christmas trees in living room windows, decked out in lights, garlands, and ornaments. Decorating a Christmas tree is a time-honored tradition in many households. More than 94 million households in the United States displayed a Christmas tree in 2021, according to a survey from the American Christmas Tree Association. The elements that go into decorating a Christmas tree—lights, garland, tinsel, and ornaments—are familiar to nearly everyone. But when it comes to creating a holiday tree that expresses your style, personality, heritage, and surroundings, the options are virtually limitless. The best Christmas trees are filled with layer upon layer of memories, traditions, and ornaments—both handcrafted and store-bought.

Not sure how you want to decorate your tree this year? We have plenty of Christmas tree theme ideas, along with handmade ornament ideas that let you put a personal touch on your holiday decor. Once you've found your inspiration, follow our three easy steps for decorating a Christmas tree like a pro.

red and white christmas tree with gifts underneath
Adam Albright

How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree Like a Pro

Getting a dazzling holiday tree doesn't have to be hard work. All it takes is an understanding of how the elements work together and a few easy-to-follow tips from our tree-decorating pros. We'll show you how to decorate a Christmas tree professionally. Remember: It's more important for the family to decorate together than to strive for perfect placement. But these three steps will ensure that your tree is both beloved and beautiful.

putting christmas string lights on tree
Cameron Sadeghpour

Step 1: Hang Your Christmas Tree Lights

The first step in how to decorate a Christmas tree is adding the lights. Tree lights typically come on green or white wire strands, though you can also find black variations now, which are perfect if you happen to have a black Christmas tree. Choose the strand color that matches your tree so the wire will be hidden. Illuminating your Christmas tree from the inside out will give it the most dynamic look. Start at the base of the trunk and work your way up, wrapping lights around every major branch, moving from the trunk to the tip and back. Fluff the branches as you work your way around the tree.

Experiment with different lighting schemes until you find one you like; it's OK to mix and match lights. For example, a background of white or clear lights can be highlighted with strands of colored lights that wrap the outer areas of the tree.

See our complete guide to putting lights on your Christmas tree for even more info on how to design your perfect tree lighting scheme. Here are four popular types of Christmas lights to choose from when decorating your tree.

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Traditional Incandescent Lights

These Christmas tree lights, which come in a variety of sizes and colors, are the most popular type of tree lights. They can also be used outdoors. They warm up the branches of a real tree, which will release the scent of pine into the room.

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LED Lights

These Christmas tree lights are newer than the traditional incandescent lights and don't produce heat. They're typically more expensive, but they are flameproof, fireproof, and completely safe to decorate a Christmas tree with.

Buy It: Northlight 100ct LED Mini Christmas Lights ($21, Target)

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Globe Lights

These Christmas tree lights are round and come in many sizes. They look like balls of color on the tree, and while they have a softer glow than mini lights, the light they produce covers a larger area on the tree.

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Bubble Lights

These retro lights stand straight up on the limbs of your Christmas tree. When the liquid tube on top of the light warms up, bubbles float up and down inside the tube, resembling lava lamps.

Christmas tree with burlap webbing and cotton boll stems
Jacob Fox

Step 2: Add Christmas Tree Garland

There are no firm rules for decorating a Christmas tree when it comes to draping garland. To avoid branches bulging between tightly cinched garland strands, start at the top of the tree, and slowly increase the amount of garland between each wave as you work your way down the branches. Plan to use about two strands of garland for every vertical foot of tree.

To avoid a busy look on your tree, decorate your Christmas tree with a variety of garlands from plain to fancy. Thin, beaded garlands look best hung from branch to branch; thicker paper, ribbon, or foil garlands look best wrapped loosely around the entire tree. Or match your flocked Christmas tree with a pretty flocked garland ($37, Bed Bath & Beyond). If you're still in need of a garland, you can also consider making your own this holiday season.

Decorating a Christmas tree with ribbon is a popular alternative to a garland. Loosely wrap wide, patterned ribbon ($12, Target) around the entire tree in horizontal bands. To add interest, try making big bows from a similar ribbon and using them to decorate the tree branches. Once you know how to decorate a tree with ribbon, try and amp it up by using ribbon vertically on the tree, creating cascading streams of ribbon from the top of your tree to the base, tucking the ends under your tree topper, and securing around the trunk at the base.

Editor's Tip: Try one of our favorite Christmas tree decoration ideas. Tuck the ribbon back toward the trunk of your tree to create a billowy look.

Christmas tree with cotton, burlap, twine ornaments and floral picks
Jacob Fox

Step 3: Hang Christmas Tree Ornaments

The final step in decorating your tree is to hang your Christmas ornaments. Here's what to consider as you're adding Christmas tree decorations.

  • To showcase your favorite ornaments, place them in prime positions on the tree first.
  • Next, hang your larger ornaments, spacing them evenly around the tree. Ornament balls ($7, Walmart) in one color but several sizes and textures will create continuity from top to bottom. Hang the larger ones on the bottom, the smaller at the top.
  • Fill in around those ornaments with medium- and small-size ornaments ($11, Walmart). Be sure to hang some ornaments closer to the trunk to create depth and interest. They reflect the light to make your tree sparkle from the inside. Make the tree yours by adding specialty items, such as handmade ornaments, clip-on ornaments, or icicles.
  • Finish the look with a simple tree topper and a festive tree skirt.

Stand back and study your tree from various angles—we recommend squinting your eyes—to determine if there are empty areas to fill.

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