How to Decorate a Christmas Tree - 2 Dads with Baggage
man putting star on top of brightly lit Christmas Tree

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

Every year this comes up, and I’m constantly asked how to decorate a Christmas tree properly. I think maybe it has something to do with the way I put on the lights. It’s a pet peeve of mine to see a beautiful tree with amazing ornaments, but it’s full of wires from the strings of lights. I guess there is an art to decorating a Christmas tree after all.

Truth be told, this is where the gay gene can come in handy. We just happen to have an inherent design aesthetic. Christmas Trees are harder to decorate than they look, so let the gays help you out!

We’re happy to share a few of our tricks on how to decorate a Christmas Tree, learned from family traditions, watching too many HGTV shows, and more than a little trial and error.

family picks out a Christmas Tree at the tree lot
Picking out the best Christmas tree is half the battle.

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

Follow along with these easy steps:

Choosing a Good Tree

Choose a fresh tree that feels truly heavy when you try to pick it up. The heavier it feels, the more water it has retained – and this helps it last longer. It should also smell really strongly of pine, and when you grab a handful of needles it should leave a slight piney residue on your fingers. Sorry, but no Home Depot trees – they have been sitting in a warehouse, and then a truck, and then another warehouse for weeks. Not the freshest.

Man pointing at tree in Christmas tree lot
Triton spies out the perfect specimen at the Christmas tree lot.

Ask the people at the tree lot to trim the bottom inch off the base of the tree trunk, which will allow the tree to absorb water faster. Last thing anyone wants is a dead tree weeks before Christmas. Can anyone say fire hazard? Or worse yet, a brown Christmas?

Keep it Watered

As soon as you get your Christmas tree home and positioned in the tree stand, fill the stand with warm water mixed with sugar. Make sure you fill it to nearly the top – you’ll be surprised how much your tree will drink. Check it every day and NEVER let it go dry. Once the bottom is dry, it seals up and will no longer absorb water even if you put more in.

Putting on the Lights

When our friends ask us how to decorate a Christmas Tree, this is the first place I start. We use little white lights, but really any will do as long as you have a lot of them. A LOT. Starting at the bottom of the tree, wind the strands of lights from the trunk to the end of each branch. Carefully wind the lights around the branch, working back and forth until you reach the tips. Then guide the strand underneath that branch and over to the back of the next branch were it meets the trunk. Repeat until you have all the lowest branches lit.

Christmas ornaments and lights closeup
The deeper you place your Christmas lights on the tree, the more layers of color and reflection you get.

Many people just set the lights on the branches and all anyone sees are wires. You have to take the time to wind the lights through the branches, weaving the strands in and out so the wires are hidden. Another thing many people forget is that part of a Christmas Tree’s beauty is in its depth. Make sure the lights go all the way back inside to the trunk. Believe me, this effect is magical.

When you think you are done, stand back about 20 feet and squint. (Or if you wear glasses, take them off). I know this sounds weird, but squinting will blur your vision and allow you to see holes in the tree where you did not spread the lighting evenly. I always save out an extra strand of lights for this purpose, so I can plug it in and fill the areas I missed.

The Tradition of Ornaments

Ever since our girls were newborns, we have purchased each daughter a Christmas Tree ornament each year. My mom did this for my brother and I, and when we finally each had houses of our own she gave us our ornament collection. We plan to do the same for Sophia and Ava. Each year, we write their initials and the year on the bottom of their ornaments. When it’s time, they will have a collection ready to go!

vintage Christmas ornament
From the collection my mom saved for me, this vintage ornament has lasted through the years.

One of the nice things about this is that each ornament has a story. When the girls were old enough to pick out their own special ornament each year, their choices reflected their interests at the time. Now when we unpack the ornaments to place on the tree, each one tells a story and brings back a memory from that year of Christmas.

Placing the Ornaments

If you have toddlers or pets in the house, you may already know what I’m about to say. If you have any ornaments you care about, put them at the top of the tree not the bottom. Save the bottom branches for ornaments that can take a beating, or can avoid breaking if they fall. Believe me, we learned this the hard way.

Christmas ornament with kids' initials
Like this ornament labeled with Sophia’s initials, we’ve added to the girls’ collections each year.

When Sophia was just a toddler, she was a quick little thing. One Christmas, we turned our backs for just ONE SECOND. Sophia crawled over and had a fragile ornament in her hand so fast it made our heads spin. Needless to say, the ornament was broken and had to be thrown away. Luckily Sophia wasn’t hurt!

Another tip here is to first place the less important ornaments on the tree, deep inside the branches. Now that you placed lights all the way inside, ornaments will sparkle and show up way back there. This adds further depth and interest to the tree. The favorites and more meaningful ornaments can take a front seat.

Don’t Forget the Back

We are of the firm believe that a Christmas Tree is meant to be decked, even laden, with interesting ornaments. That doesn’t mean you have to hide the good ones where no one can see them. But if your tree is placed in a window like ours, then people can enjoy it from the street side too. Don’t make the poor Christmas Tree feel schizophrenic by having one side decorated all pretty while the back side is ugly and barren. Gotta give the back some love. When you are done, walk outside and see what it looks like from the street. See?

Craftsman house with Christmas lights
Our tree looks good through the front window, framed by the Christmas lights on the outside of our house.

Garlands and Ribbons

If you must, add garlands and/or ribbons to the tree after you’ve placed the interior ornaments but before you’ve placed the outer ones. There is a method to this madness. When we used to use garlands, we learned that putting them on at the very end makes them look like an afterthought. By placing them halfway through, the outer ornaments can be woven into the garlands to look more natural and cohesive.

Just Have Fun With It

As I read this I know I sound more than a little anal-retentive. And guess what? Maybe I am about this subject. With so many friends over the years asking us how to decorate a Christmas Tree, I’ve become well practiced at sharing our tips.

Christmas tree with star on top
The fully decorated tree, complete with star on top!

And now you, dear readers, know how to decorate a Christmas Tree too!

Merry Christmas!


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