In this post: Need help getting your Christmas tree up this year? Then check out our step-by-step guide that’ll lead you through Christmas tree decorating in no time.
Learn how to decorate a beautiful Christmas tree with these step-by-step instructions and some of our own tree photos for your inspiration and Christmas tree decoration ideas.
Learning to Decorate a Tree by Trial and Error
When hubby and I first got married, we had no clue how to go about decorating a Christmas tree.
Neither of us grew up celebrating Christmas (the church we both went to was very old-testament focused and thought Christmas was too pagan to celebrate), so we actually celebrated each of our first Christmases together back in 1995 when we were first dating.
I’m quite certain that our own first few trees were thus rather sparse and somewhat ugly.
But over the years (it may or may not be about twenty-five years and twenty-five Christmases – but I’m not telling!), I think I’ve figured out a thing or two about creating a pretty tree, even when it’s an artificial tree.
Read on for how to decorate a Christmas tree the easy way with these step-by-step instructions.
Choose a Color Scheme or Theme
I know several people who have multiple Christmas trees every year, each one with a different theme. And I know many others who like to keep one big tree with all the ornaments on it. There is no right or wrong here – just personal preference.
Whether you use the same holiday decor year after year (it’s tradition!) or you switch it up every Christmas (have fun!), before you decorate your Christmas tree, you need to know your color scheme or theme.
We tend to change things yearly, but in a way that doesn’t require buying all new ornaments. Often I’ll make a slight shift, that utilizes some older pieces and a few newer ones.
For example, one year I’ll go all traditional red and green, and the next, I’ll keep the red, but add in some black in place of the green. Or I’ll switch to more neutrals and leave the red out altogether.
How to switch color schemes or themes on a budget
01 | Ribbon
One of the easiest and most economical ways to change colors or themes is to change what ribbon you add to your tree.
You can use vintage, burlap, satin, velvet, or plaid ribbon for a festive touch.
Although ribbon can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be. And even a small amount can make a huge impact.
02 | Traditional Christmas Ball Ornaments
You know those big plastic containers you can get filled with matching or coordinating Christmas ball ornaments? Yup, those. They’re the cheapest type of ornaments you can get, and they can really sway a color scheme in the right direction.
Just be sure to mix in other elements like larger ornaments, smaller ornaments, pine cones, and other natural elements for texture and variety.
How to Decorate a Christmas Tree – Step-by-Step
Yes, there is an easy way to decorate a tree so that it’s full of layers and looking beautiful. Follow the step-by-step instructions to get a designer-looking tree – even if you’re a complete tree-decorating beginner!
Step 1 – Put up the tree and fluff it up
Whether you’re using a real Christmas tree or a faux tree, set up your tree in its stand and fluff the branches.
Spread faux branches out to fill in any gaps.
If your tree has seen better days and has large gaps, try winding a garland or two down the trunk of the tree or between the branches to create a nice full tree.
Step 2 – Add Christmas tree lights
If your tree is pre-lit you can skip adding Christmas lights. If it’s not pre-lit, now is the time to add those string lights.
Weave the strands in and out of branches for depth. Add in as few or as many lights as you’d like.
Personally, for a 6-7 foot tree, I like an absolute minimum of 300 mini lights and as many as 700.
About 100 mini lights per foot-tall of a tree is a good general rule.
And I like to keep my Christmas tree lights on the warm side. I just find it adds a much nicer holiday glow, you know?
Pro Tip: Plug your lights in as you arrange them in the tree, so you can see better where to place them.
Step 3 – Add stems or greenery sprays
You can add sprigs or stems of greenery to fill in any gaps or just to add some texture and visual interest to your tree. Twigs or berry sprays work really well here too.
I’ve been doing this with our trees for the last few years and by buying a few new stems each year, I’ve kept the overall cost to a minimum.
And yes, the tree will look a little odd and even janky at this point. Have faith and keep going!
Pro tip: Keep and stems and sprays that you add parallel to the existing branches (except for the ones near the top of the tree) so they look like they’re part of the tree.
Step 4 – Add any ribbons you’d like
Like I mentioned already, ribbons are a big-impact low-cost way to change color schemes and themes when the mood strikes.
To include ribbons on your tree, decide whether you’d like to wrap the ribbons around the tree or have them cascade down the tree in various ways:
- Wrapped around the tree is sort of like wearing horizontal stripes, and makes the tree look wider.
- Letting the ribbons cascade down the tree gives the appearance of a taller tree.
- You can tuck ribbons into the branches, curl them, let them hang, etc.
If you’re using multiple styles and colors of ribbon add the largest or boldest or largest first. Then move on down to the next size/color.
To get the curled ribbon, buy wired ribbon, wrap it around your hand, and then gently pull the end that is closest to your hand to make a sort of corkscrew curl. The wire will help the ribbon to stay curled.
Here’s another way to add ribbon to your Christmas tree
- Take 3 kinds of wired ribbons and cut them all to about 3 feet long (give or take).
- Lay all three pieces of cut ribbon over each other, sort of in a stack and loosely fold in half.
- About 6 inches from the fold, pinch all the ribbons together. Secure them together using a piece of floral wire or an unwound wire ornament hanger.
- Separate the folds to fashion a sort of bow, as seen below.
- Curl the “tails” around your hand and then separate, as seen below.
Pro Tip: It’s so much easier to place ornaments after ribbons than to do it the other way around.
Step 5 – Add the largest ornaments
Add any really large or bold ornaments or decorations you have next, spreading them out visually on the tree.
It’s much easier to do it at this stage than to try to find a good place for these large ornaments later.
Step 6 – Add multiples or sets of ornaments
Add any multiples or sets of ornaments, one set at a time, by style or color.
Space them out all over the tree for visual balance, stepping back to take a look from all angles to be sure they’re well balanced.
Step 7 – Now add any other ornaments
If you’ve got specific individual ornaments or keepsakes, find lovely spots for those on your tree now.
Step 8 – Vacuum and put down your Christmas tree skirt or tree collar
Once all your ornaments and ribbons are on the tree, give the area beneath the tree a sweeping or vacuum to pick up any stray bits.
Then, lay down the tree skirt or add your tree collar.
Step 9 – Add the tree topper
Now that our kids are mainly grown, I do most of the actual tree decorating. But it is still a tradition for Dean and Jonah to put the tree topper on the tree together. (Don’t tell the kids I shared this pic 😉)
Bonus Step – Coordinate your gift-wrapping
Another way I like to “decorate” our Christmas tree is to coordinate our wrapping paper for each year with the colors or theme that the tree is decorated in. That way when the presents make their way under the tree, the living room looks super pretty, elegant, and filled with holiday cheer.
And now you have a fully decorated tree!
How to Decorate a Christmas Tree – Video
Watch as I explain how to decorate your tree with step-by-step instructions.