How to decorate a Christmas tree professionally with lights and baubles – step by step

The comprehensive expert-led guide to decorating your tree to perfection for the festivities

Decorating your Christmas tree is a wonderful experience. Carols playing in the background, mulled wine ready for sipping, the kids delicately placing baubles, and not a single tangle in the fairy lights… Oh wait. Yep, that’s definitely a dream.

While we can’t conjure up our daydream exactly, what we can do is to make things that bit easier for you this year with our how to decorate a Christmas tree guide.

Once you’ve decided which of the many Christmas tree ideas you want to go for this year, come and take a read through our step by step guide. You won’t just have a lovely tree by the end of it, you’ll have one that looks like a pro nipped in and finished it for you - except without the price and hassle.

Christmas tree with gold baubles in grey living room with fireplace

(Image credit: Future PLC)

How to decorate a Christmas tree

‘A perfect Christmas tree is a truly beautiful feature in every living room or hallway,’ says Nicky Phillips, Decorating Editor of Ideal Home. ‘Yet sometimes, even when we have selected beautiful decorations and put a lot of effort into decorating it, it doesn’t always come out the way we would like.’

‘The secret of a well dressed tree isn’t always about the well selected decorations, ribbons and ornaments – it’s the way you hang, scatter and place those pieces on the tree. So whether it be a faux or real tree this Christmas, we reveal IH tips and tricks to help create your very best tree easily and stress free.’

Read on, and discover how to create the best-dressed festive fir to become the centrepiece of your Christmas ideas this year.

1. Place the Christmas tree and fluff the branches

Plain christmas tree

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

First you'll need to set your tree in a secure stand – we'll later cover this with a tree skirt. If you're using a solid, wicker tree skirt, make sure to add it on at this stage, however.

Even if you have one of the best artificial Christmas trees, fluffing the branches is still really important, as it will make your tree look more natural and full, and also much more beautiful!

You can also do this to a certain extent with real Christmas trees, but be gentle so the needles don't drop. Another tip – wear gloves because the branches can be extremely prickly and you could risk a splinter.

2. Put the lights on

Christmas tree decorated with lights

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

If your tree is not pre-lit, now is the time to put your lights on the tree. Christmas tree light hacks are our saviour.

Firstly consider which lights. 'When choosing lighting for your tree the golden rule is to ensure the colour of your lights don’t clash with your decorations and baubles,' advises Georgina Horspool, Lighting Designer at Alexander Joseph (opens in new tab).

'Begin with coloured lights to provide the main colour to your tree, then use decorations to provide contrasting bursts of colour. If you have a larger tree, consider using ‘globe’ shaped bulbs rather than the smaller LED stings – they create a better sense of scale and will be more cost effective. This year soft white light is in vogue.'

All sorted. Now it's time to place them on. The best way to do this is firstly by switching them on, it's far easier to see where you're placing them this way. Drape the light strand across the branches, working from one side to the other, top to bottom to ensure they are evenly distributed.

For best results void visible cords, using green cord lights can help to eliminate this problem.

GreenClick 40 LED Globe String Lights with Timer, was £15.99, now £10.39, Amazon (opens in new tab)

These pretty mini lights are bowered by a battery pack and can be used indoors or outside. They give off a warm glow that's easy on the eyes.

3. Add your tree topper

How-to-decorate-a-Christmas-tree

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

Most people think this should be the finishing touch, but when a tree is fully decorated it can actually be quite difficult to fix the topper. It's a real preference, to top or not to top that is the question?

'The tree does not look complete without a focal point perched high on the top vertical branch of the Christmas tree,' says Vanessa Arbuthnott, Founder and CEO of Vanessa Arbuthnott (opens in new tab). ' I am a homespun type who wouldn’t buy anything plastic or sequinned or tinselled - just plain Scandinavian style using simple wooden or home-made paper decorations.'

A star, fairy or oversized ribbon bow are traditional options but there are so many other original Christmas tree topper ideas out there.

On trend... bow toppers

Giant Velvet Tree Topper Bow: £48, Not on The High Street (opens in new tab)

For a more traditional approach to the bow trend, opt for this velvet version. You can even personalise it to your family.

Chiffon ribbon - pack of two rolls: £13.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)

Create your own tree topper with this wire edged ribbon. With two rolls that's plenty to create a rosette shaped show stopper, or cover the house in bows this Christmas.

4. Start adding decorations

Decorated christmas tree

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

Whichever of the Christmas tree trends you're opting for this year, our best tip is to put the heaviest decorations towards the inside the tree first, so the weight is supported by the branches. For the around the middle fill with inexpensive incidental glitter or shiny ornaments, that are perfect to catch the light from within the depth of the tree.

If you have a fake tree you don’t even need to hang them, they will just easily nestle in amongst the branches.

This step will fill all the gaps inside the tree and make it more three-dimensional and interesting.

5. Hang your key baubles

Decorated christmas tree with lights and baubles

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

Start hanging your baubles, using larger ones at the base and medium sized baubles in the middle and top of the tree. Limit yourself to three or four different colours, using a variety of matt, shiny and glitter decorations. This will help give your tree depth and more interest.

A lack of structure and space with baubles is one of the major problems found when decorating trees. 'A lot of houses will hang ornaments on their Christmas tree haphazardly, causing it to look populated and a little bit claustrophobic,' say the experts at Christmas Tree World (opens in new tab). 'You can easily avoid that by having a plan of what you want your Christmas tree to look like. You should spread out your decorations evenly, whilst also considering symmetry.'

48 Pack of Winters Hibernation Baubles – Silver, was £8, now £6, Argos (opens in new tab)
Add these to your festive creation, or just hang them on the tree. At less than 13p per bauble, they’re a bargain.

6. Add picks and sprays

Decorated christmas tree

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

Fill the tree with sparkling picks and sprays, branches with faux-ice crystals or snow, faux flowers, or just use natural branches with a dusting of white spray paint. You could try pine cones picks, too, painting the tips with white acrylic paint and sprinkling them with white and silver glitter, to make them look snow-drenched.

Enchanted Christmas floral foliage swag: Was £12, Now £9, Argos (opens in new tab)
Add a theatrical splash to your creation with this floral swag. You can use it whole or divide up the flowers and scatter them through.

7. Showcase those extra-special ornaments

Decorated christmas tree

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

Now it's time to showcase your favourite ornaments, and add an element of surprise. These could be heirlooms or collectables – maybe you've brought back a Christmas trinket from a family holiday, or perhaps you have decorations your children made when they were little. If it's special, make sure it takes pride of place.

8. Time for finishing touching touches

Decorated christmas tree

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

Fill any gaps in the tree with smaller decorations, like mini baubles or bells. Or try finishing the look with glass (or acrylic) icicles on the tips of the branches, to create the perfect winter wonderland look for your tree.

9. Choose your tree skirt

Decorated christmas tree with silver baubles

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

Be imaginative with your choice of tree skirt or decorative cover. You could try burlap, faux fur or any other fabric to hide the trunk and any practical but mundane stand.

A fashionable option for the modern tree is a willow tree skirt, but as noted above, this would have to be placed on before the lights.

Rattan Christmas Tree Skirt, £35, Garden Trading (opens in new tab)
This simple and stylish design by Garden Trading crafted in Kuku rattan comes in a variety of sizes, to ensure it covers all bases. As it’s one single piece, i.e it doesn’t unfasten, be sure to measure the base if you have an artificial tree to make sure it fits.

10. Pile up the presents

Decorated christmas tree with presents under it

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

And done! Before you know it, that dream of the perfect afternoon decorating the Christmas tree with the family will become a reality. And, if not, chuck on your favourite Christmas playlist, pour a glass of Prosecco and dance around your beautifully decorated tree.

Decorated christmas tree with presents under it

(Image credit: Future PLC)

How can I make my Christmas tree look fuller?

First and foremost, make sure you leave a real tree to acclimatise in your home. Once it's done so, fluff the branches to fill it out. For artificial trees, clever bending and manipulation of the branches will make a huge difference in how full your tree appears. Your choice of decorating can go a long way in making your Christmas tree look fuller. Carefully positioned oversized baubles can hide gaps in branches, and you can tuck in faux flowers or feathers, too, to give the illusion of more body on the tree. Choosing the correctly sized tree skirt also helps, as if you use one that's out of proportion your tree is going to look smaller and thinner by comparison.

How do you decorate a Christmas tree for 2022?

The buzz word for this year has to be 'joy'. Potentially being the first Christmas since 2019 that you can have family and friends over to celebrate with you, the biggest trend for decorating a Christmas tree is layering up bright, cheerful baubles and sentimental decorations. One of the other biggest trends has to the natural vibe. Every other area of our lives are going green, and Christmas is no exception. 'This year, we're going to see lots of natural, eco and sustainable materials,' says Rachel Epstein, Interiors Expert and Creative Director of CARME Home (opens in new tab). 'If this is your go to choice, try incorporating acorns and dried fruit into your decorating.'

What goes first on a Christmas tree?

When decorating a Christmas tree there are two things you might start with. Firstly, if you're going for a solid tree skirt, this must go on before any decorations, otherwise all your hard work will end up on the floor! If you're opting to cover up the Christmas tree stand with fabric, then the first thing that goes on the tree is the lights - make sure to work from the base upwards.

Amy Cutmore
Amy Cutmore

Amy Cutmore is Editor-in-Chief, Homes Audience, working across the Future Homes portfolio. She works on titles including Ideal Home, Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, Real Homes, Gardeningetc, Top Ten Reviews and Country Life. And she's a winner of the PPA's Digital Content Leader of the Year. A homes journalist for two decades, she has a strong background in technology and appliances, and has a small portfolio of rental properties, so can offer advice to renters and rentees, alike.