The Stress-Free Way to Decorate a Christmas Tree

Simple solutions to tree decorating that will keep your holidays stress-free.

Decorating the Christmas tree has always been one of the great joys of the holiday season for my family. We wait, impatiently, until the day after Thanksgiving, forgoing Black Friday shopping for getting our Christmas tree up. When the boys were small, we’d pile into the minivan and head to a tree farm, trotting up and down the rows until we found the perfect specimen for our family room. Then the search would continue until the boys picked a smaller version to decorate for their own room. Once we were home, Christmas music would fill the air, and the day would not end until both trees were lighted and dressed.

This ritual is such a part of my life, I was surprised when a friend confessed that he was hopeless at decorating Christmas trees and never knew where to start. For those of you who feel the same way, here are some tips to help you embrace and enjoy the tree-trimming process.

Tree Decor 1: Fred Albert, original photo on Houzz
Fred Albert, original photo on Houzz

“A Winged Christmas” is the name my husband, Mike, and I have given this Christmas tree. Yes, we name our tree. It reflects what we love best about the season, our vibrant and personal faith, and our love of beautiful things.

No matter what your theme is, or your perspective on Christmas, here are some basic tools to make trimming your tree fulfilling and fun.

Your first decision will be whether to go with real or faux.

We go with prelit faux for one primary reason: putting lights on a real tree is a complete pain, and by the time we’re done, we’ve already turned into Grinches and ruined the season. (The first time I ever heard my father swear was when he was putting lights on a tree.)

In my opinion, whoever invented prelit trees ought to get the Nobel Peace Prize.

The next step is to decide whether to do a themed tree or simply a conglomeration of ornaments. If you have family ornaments, or ones that tell a story or share your life, so much the better.

Deciding on the components of your tree is not that different from doing the interior design of a room. You want to mix it up. Different textures, shapes and sizes will give your tree lively interest. Mike and I use angels large and small that we have collected over our decades together. We mix them with gold and silver balls in varying sizes, and then add the large marbleized pink balls we bought off the display at a huge and marvelously decorated department store in downtown Seattle years ago. (Note: If you buy from a store’s display at the end of the season, you can score some great stuff inexpensively.) Twigs and branches in silver and gold, along with faux icicles, fill out our design.

Tree Decor 2: Becky Dietrich, Interior Designer, original photo on Houzz
Becky Dietrich, Interior Designer, original photo on Houzz

Your first step is to decide on your tree topper, and to affix it first, instead of risking your neck getting to the top of a fully decorated tree. This stunning chocolate- and cream-colored Renaissance angel is too heavy for the top branch, so she is actually suspended from the ceiling. Silver twigs give the impression she is resting on an ethereal cloud.

Second — and this may seem strange to many of you — we insert glittery, feathery silver twigs and clusters of twigs with gold berries along the length of the tree’s branches. We do this because they add interesting texture and really help soften what would otherwise be the too-perfect shape of the artificial tree. We balance them visually around the tree, while making sure that their tips extend well beyond the tree itself. If you use garland, this is the time to apply it.

Tree Decor 3: Fred Albert, original photo on Houzz
Fred Albert, original photo on Houzz

The next step is to put the largest elements on your tree. In our case it’s a half dozen really large angels. We start with the remaining chocolate-colored ones, making sure they travel down the tree from top to bottom, and around the circumference, not one on top of the other. The large silver and gold angels come next, carefully juxtaposed against the chocolate ones.

As with the lights, it’s critical that you tuck decorations back into the recesses of the tree, not just hang them on the tips. This will give you a lush look.

Once our smaller angels have been placed into the appropriate holes, nooks or crannies, we add other elements. Note that although our tree is almost monochromatic, with its rich golds, silvers and browns, fabulous pink balls keep the scheme from dying. Just be careful if you choose to add a contrasting color that the balls are tucked in amongst the branches, and not hanging on the exterior, where they would become too prominent and could prove to be a distraction rather than an enhancement.

Sparkly pewter-colored snowflakes in three sizes add yet another texture. You feel more than see them on our tree, but if they weren’t there, the tree would lose some of its life and interest.

A new shape is introduced with very inexpensive but quite marvelous faux crystal icicles. They catch and reflect the tree lights and add sparkle, which is really important. Are you old enough to remember the tinsel that folks used to drape over trees in the 1950s? These serve the same purpose.

No winged theme would be complete without birds. Stores tend to be full of fairly tacky birds, so we wait till we find ones that call to us. Don’t be in a hurry and compromise your taste in order to “finish” your tree. If it takes years to find the right things, that is perfectly fine. It will be worth the wait.

Tree Decor 4: Becky Harris, original photo on Houzz
Becky Harris, original photo on Houzz

Your Christmas tree should tell your story as much as anything else in your home. This contemporary and spare tree is absolutely stunning. Notice that even on this tree, balls are carefully hung inside along the branches, not just on the outside. (Can you tell I think this is really important?)


Some people design their tree around the design of their room, and this is certainly a beautiful example of that. Notice how the textures of the ornaments and the sizes of the balls are varied. The addition of the sapphire blue color is perfect, and in just the right amount.


Tree Decor 6: Julie Ranee Photography, original photo on Houzz
Julie Ranee Photography, original photo on Houzz

This is just delightful. The tree shape created from hats of different sizes and textures is such a creative way to do a tree without doing a tree. And the two little evergreens perfectly complement the design, while subversively nodding to tradition.

However you celebrate, my family wishes you a very merry Christmas and a happy, happy holiday season.

This post originally published on Houzz.

For related articles:
How to Maintain a Real Christmas Tree
Find an Interior Designer Like Becky Dietrich
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Categories: Home Grown