Holidays 101: How to Pick and Decorate a Christmas Tree

By: colleen clark

December 2, 2016

Image via Avante Press, City Christmas Cards


The magic of twinkling lights, the crisp scent of pine, prized ornaments hung for all to see. And the presents underneath aren’t so bad either. Christmas trees are among the most magical of holiday traditions. And we’ve got everything you need to do your tannenbaum right. From picking the perfect pine to tree skirts and trimming, this is our ultimate guide to Christmas trees.

Holidays 101: How to Pick and Decorate a Christmas Tree, Laurel & Wolf, Photo by Jean Allsopp via Country Living

Photo by Jean Allsopp via Country Living

Step One: Find Your Tree

First, determine what type of tree will work best for you. We’re partial to Fraser Firs because their scent is pretty much the definition of Christmas. Plus they have solid, slightly upturned branches that hold ornaments well. White Pines are bushy and full, but the soft branches won’t support heavier ornaments. Then there are your spruce trees, which are usually cheaper, but lack the fresh scent of firs.

Once you pick the style of tree, test for freshness. Softly grab a branch and pull it towards you. If the tree is fresh, most needles will remain on the branch. You can also test freshness by holding the whole tree up and dropping it. If tons of needles fall off, keep looking. Lastly, crush a needle in your hand. If it doesn’t release a scent, skip it.

Holidays 101: How to Pick and Decorate a Christmas Tree, Laurel & Wolf, Photo by Jean Allsopp via Country Living

Photo by Jean Allsopp via Country Living

Step Two: Stand It Up and Put It in a Skirt

When you get the tree home, saw a half inch or so off of the trunk. This will help it absorb water more quickly. Then get it into its stand, add water, and keep the stand filled with water as often as possible. Camouflage the stand by adding a tree skirt or try a fun alternative, like placing the tree in a basket or pail.

Step Three: Add Lights

Plan for about 100 lights for every foot of your tree, then add a few more to make it really sparkle. Rule number one? Plug in the lights to test them before adding them to the tree. There’s nothing worse than getting the tree decked out, getting ready for the big reveal, then discovering that an entire set is broken.

Once all strands are good to go, start at the bottom of the tree and work your way up. Place some lights closer to the trunk and others further out on the branches for a more natural look. When you connect one strand to the next, tuck the excess cord back into the branches so you don’t get a dead zone in your lights. All strung up? Turn them on, squint your eyes and if you see an area of darkness, adjust the strands to distribute the light.

Step Four: Layer on the Flair

Now it gets fun! We like to pick a few unifying elements for our tree. That could mean thick ribbons cascading down in strands, an old-school paper chain encircling the tree, or a cranberry garland. Next, evenly distribute your filler ornaments–these are the ornaments that you have multiples of.

Step Five: Hang Ornaments

Now add the rest of your ornaments. Feel free to steal the place of honor in the front of the tree for your prized keepsakes, like that bell you brought back from a special trip or the adorable art projects your nieces and nephews gifted you for past Christmases. We like to think of trees as a sort of album of holidays past, collecting new ornaments to mark new occasions each year.

Step Six: Top It All Off

You’re nearly there! Take a long sip of cocoa and then top off your tannenbaum with something special. That could be a star or an angel. But feel free to get creative with something that represents your family. Then it’s time to turn up the tunes, pour some egg nog and start putting those presents under the tree.

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