Decorating a Christmas tree may seem like a no-brainer. You snag a Christmas tree, cover it with lights, and top it with ornaments—what more is there to do? But spend an afternoon chatting with a professional decorator, and you’ll quickly realize there’s a lot more to do—or at least, a lot more you could be doing.
Over the years, professional decorators have mastered the art of Christmas tree décor, and they’ve amassed all kinds of Christmas tree decorating tips in the process. From pruning branches to giving ornaments more space to sneaking extra lights behind the tree, their tricks run the gamut from classic to clever—and any one of them is sure to make your tree look more special this holiday season.
Trim Your Tree to Free Up Space
Once you’ve scored the perfect real Christmas tree, you may be antsy to cover it with lights and ornaments. But, experts recommend taking a moment to prune your tree first.
“The first thing is to make sure there are layers to the tree,” Alexis Garrett, principal designer at Alexis Garrett Design, says. “To create layers, you need space.”
Garrett likes to start with the sparsest tree she can find. Then, she cuts as many branches as needed to free up space for lights and ornaments.
“As you trim, imagine you are creating space between each layer for light to bounce around, and also enough space that every ornament hangs without touching a branch,” Garrett says. “If the ornaments are hitting the branches below, they won’t shine.”
Pick an Untraditional Palette
Red and green is a classic Christmas color combination, but it’s not your only option.
“I love using non-traditional colors when decorating a tree,” Annemarie Schumacher, event planner and founder at Make Every Day an Event, says. Schumacher’s go-to is a white tree topped with jewel tones, but any unexpected palette you feel drawn to should make a statement on your tree.
Set the Scene With a Pretty Tree Skirt
Schumacher says her first few Christmas tree decorating steps are pretty simple. She sets up her tree, making sure it’s sturdy. Then, she hangs her ornaments and lights. But, she doesn’t stop there. To make sure her tree is decorated from top to bottom, she sets the scene with a pretty tree skirt.
“I love picking out the perfect tree skirt,” Schumacher says. Wrapped around the base of your tree, this skirt can add a pop of color, print, texture—or even sparkle.
Hang Your Lights and Ornaments on Different Days
While it can be tempting to outfit your tree in one fell swoop, Garrett recommends resisting this urge.
“The next step for layering is adding lights,” Garrett says. “To demonstrate how serious I am about this step, I carve out time for this to be its own ‘event,’ rarely doing the lights and the ornaments in one day.” This approach allows Garrett to put a lot of effort into lighting her tree—and just as much effort into adorning it with ornaments.
Craft Handmade Ornaments With Your Loved Ones
Your tree is yours, so don’t be afraid to top it with a few handmade ornaments. “One of my favorite pieces is a chain of lettered flea market cards from an old French card game that I strung together to spell our two boys’ names,” Garrett says. “I also love my paper chain that reads, ‘I LOVE YOU.’”
These unique touches can make your tree feel more personal and special. "Our tree is filled with stories and memories, and they are the result of hand-making gorgeous ornaments for not much money over many seasons," Garrett says.
If the DIY ornaments you have in mind are easy enough to tackle, you can even invite your loved ones to make them with you. Pop on your favorite holiday movie and spend the afternoon making lovely mementos for your tree.
Flock Your Tree With Fake Snow
If you want your tree to feel extra-festive, consider flocking it—or covering it with fake snow.
“One of the most popular tree transformation trends I’ve seen the past few years is flocking,” Schumacher says. “A flocked tree has the added look of artificial snow and just adds a big helping of coziness to your tree.”
If you want to save time—and don’t mind an artificial tree—you can snag a faux tree that’s already been flocked. But you can also flock your own tree—whether it’s real or artificial—using a DIY flocking kit, some flocking spray, or a little flocking powder (all of which you can find online).
Hang Your Lights Vertically
Most of us wrap our lights around our Christmas trees, starting at the top and working our way down—but Schumacher recommends a different approach.
“Instead of wrapping your lights from top to bottom, hang your lights vertically,” she says. “Divide your tree into three triangular sections, and string the lights back and forth within each of those triangles.”
This technique should leave you with more evenly spaced lights, and once you get the hang of it, it should be a lot easier than your traditional tree-lighting approach. “You’ll avoid those awkward ‘around-the-tree’ moments where you’re struggling to get the string of lights from top to bottom, likely on a step ladder,” Schumacher says. “It’s an accident just waiting to happen!”
Stock Up on Vintage Ornaments
If your Christmas tree decorating routine involves buying brand new ornaments every year, consider taking a different tack this holiday season. Schumacher’s recommendation? “Vintage ornaments!” she says. “You can find an endless supply of incredible, one-of-a-kind vintage ornaments on eBay or at antique malls, thrift stores, or estate sales.”
These out-of-the-ordinary finds will undoubtedly leave your tree looking unique. “Plus, the hunt to find these gems is a fun way to get into the Christmas spirit,” Schumacher says.
Drape Tinsel From Every Branch
Garrett thinks tinsel is one of the most underrated Christmas items around. So every holiday season, she makes sure to stock up on it—and to cover her tree with it, too.
“Tinsel is definitely the biggest bang for your buck,” she says. “I think it makes your tree look old-fashioned and bright—two of my favorite things at Christmastime.”
Be sure to sneak some onto every branch. “I pinch off a little bit at a time and then stick them in on all the branches,” she says.
Garrett recommends snagging a couple of packs of tinsel. Garrett goes for silver, but pick any color you like.
Tuck a Ball of Lights on the Back of Your Tree
If you want your tree to look next-level bright, tuck some lights behind your tree. “Once every branch is wrapped with white lights, I take a couple of full strands of lights and make a ball of lights,” Garrett says. “Then, I set the ball on branches in the back of the tree for extra shine.”
When lighting our trees, many of us focus on the front—and neglect the back entirely. (After all, it’s not like anyone’s going to sneak behind the tree and see what we did back there.) But since light can shine through from branch to branch, this is a missed opportunity to make our trees look shiny and bright—and Garrett’s ball-of-lights trick is an easy way around it.
Swap Your Tree Skirt With a Tree Collar
If you want the base of your tree to look decorated but you’re not really a tree skirt person, consider scoring a tree collar, instead.
“Tree collars have become super popular in recent years,” Schumacher says. These modern finds will ground your tree, lending it some sleek style. And since they’re available in a range of materials, you can reliably find a tree collar that suits your space—and your Christmas décor scheme.
Hang Your Most Breakable Ornaments Up Top
If you live in a home full of pets or little ones, you’ll want to hang your ornaments strategically. “I used to only be able to put my breakable treasures on the top half of the tree,” Garrett says. “But my boys are older now, so I can use all my favorites everywhere, all the way to the bottom.”
Think about who will be in your home from now until Christmas Day, and hang your ornaments accordingly. By keeping fragile ornaments up top and hanging durable ornaments down below, you might be able to avoid broken-ornament-induced heartbreak.
Put Decor Underneath Your Tree
Storing gifts underneath your tree is a classic way to finish off your décor scheme. But if you like to store your gifts elsewhere, don’t just leave the base of your tree bare.
“My go-to finishing touches are actually at the bottom of the tree,” Schumacher says. “We don’t put our presents out until Christmas Eve, so creating a cute vignette underneath the tree is key.”
She does this by pulling décor items from other parts of the house. Centerpieces, mantel toppers, and other Christmas favorites become under-the-tree décor. “It just sets the tone of the tree—literally from top to bottom,” Schumacher says.
Keep It Simple With Clear Ornaments
It takes time to accumulate ornaments, lights, and décor, so don’t sweat it if you’re just getting started.
“If you are just starting out, or you have never loved your ornaments, I would say some of the most beautiful trees I have seen can just have lots of lights, some big clear glass balls, and some tinsel,” Garrett says.
Focus on making the most of what you have. “As long as your tree is shining as bright as possible, it will be amazing,” she adds.
As long as your tree is shining as bright as possible, it will be amazing.
Sneak in Some Personal Touches
Color-coordinated, perfectly hung ornaments may leave your Christmas tree looking pristine. But it’s the personal touches lining your tree that make it feel truly special.
“Make your tree your own,” Schumacher says. “Your Christmas tree décor—just like your home décor—should reflect your family’s personality, history, and traditions.”
And Garrett agrees: “My number one idea is to make sure the décor is meaningful.”
So take a risk on a hand-me-down ornament, or DIY a custom ornament for each member of your family. While these items might not look as polished as what you’d buy at the store, they’ll take your tree from sleek to special.
Place Your Shiniest Ornaments Close to Your Lights
Maximize your Christmas tree’s shine by placing your most reflective ornaments next to your brightest lights.
“I am especially fond of glass ornaments that are reflective,” Garrett says. “And I make sure to put those in the middle of the tree and near the most lights so they can reflect brightly.” These metallic ornaments will act like little mirrors, magnifying the impact of every light on your tree.
Have Fun With It
At the end of the day, having a beautiful Christmas tree isn’t worth much if decorating it made you absolutely miserable. So give yourself a break when things don’t go as planned, and try to find fun in the process.
“There are no hard and fast rules,” Schumacher says. “The holidays should be all about making memories together. So don’t sweat it, and just have fun!”