How To Decorate A Traditional Christmas Tree

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Try these simple design ideas to decorate your own traditional Christmas tree this season. Use classic color schemes and the best loved ornament styles for a beautiful display reflecting the holiday's centuries old traditions.


When to you begin decorating your Christmas tree, your first step should always be placing the lights. String lights area holiday tradition, and beautifully illuminate your tree and its décor.

  • Always remember to put your lights on first. Attempting to add them after ornaments and ribbons can be tricky, and will often knock off other decorations.
  • Begin stringing your lights on the tree at its base.
  • Place the lights near the trunk of the tree, and vary the spacing outwards along branches, never coming closer to their outer tips by less than several inches.
  • The key to stringing lights on your Christmas tree properly is to hide the wire, and only allow the glow of the light bulbs to show through.
  • Unless you have purchased a white, flocked tree, always use string lights on a green wire. This will dramatically help hide the wide inside the tree's branches.
  • Traditional Christmas trees typically use either white, or multicolored lights. Try to avoid blue, or monochromatic light sets if you are aiming for a traditionally styled tree.
  • Depending on how bright you would like your tree to be, leave between one and six inches in between each layer of lights as they ascend the tree. The closer they are, the brighter your tree will be, and the more lights you will need to fully cover it.
  • Remember that taller and wider trees will need longer strings of lights.

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Garlands are another common addition to the traditional Christmas tree, and are a great way to add color and substance to your tree's décor. When using garlands, decide whether you would like them to horizontally encircle the tree, or fall vertically.

  • Select garlands in red, gold or silver for traditionally styled trees. If you choose a green garland, make sure it is a slightly different shade of green than the tree itself.
  • Space the garland layers wide enough to leave room for ornaments, and to show plenty of light from the strings previously added.
  • If you are using your garlands vertically rather than horizontally, be sure to securely fasten each section to the top of the tree, and maintain enough open space between them to prevent the top of the tree from appearing entirely covered in garland.


Ribbons are another beautiful choice for a traditional Christmas tree, and are typically used in place of a garland. While both can be used, do not use much of either, to avoid covering the entire tree, and losing precious space for ornaments.

  • Select ribbons in red, green, gold and silver.
  • Avoid bright colors like blue and purple for traditional trees.
  • Like garlands, ribbons can also be used horizontally or vertically on your tree.
  • If you would like the look of ribbons and garlands, but want to avoid an overcrowded tree, consider snipping the ribbon into small sections, and tying delicate bows on various branches, rather than wrapping the tree with ribbons like a garland.


Adding the ornaments to your tree is often a family's favorite part, and is a great way to incorporate children into the process. Always handle delicate and fragile ornaments with care.

  • Traditionally designed Christmas trees typically feature red, green, gold and silver ball ornaments.
  • Other colors can be used, but keep these shades to a minimum. Your overall color scheme should be made up primarily of traditional Christmas colors.

Extra Decoration Ideas

Many traditional Christmas trees also feature some of these decorations:

  • Popcorn Strings: Get your kids involved and have them string popcorn onto a string or wire. Drape the popcorn string around your tree like a garland.
  • Poinsettia Flowers: Snip flowers off of poinsettias around your home, or purchase faux flowers from a craft store designed to be placed on a tree.
  • Frames: Many craft stores sell small frame ornaments. Fill several with family photos from past Christmases, and hang on thick, sturdy branches.
  • Unique Ornaments: Over the years, many family collect unique and sentimental ornaments. Include ones that are special to you, and incorporate them into your own Christmas tradition.


Every traditional Christmas tree features a topper. Select either a large gold or silver star, or an angel, depending on your personal preference. Using a ladder or step stool, carefully place the star or angel on the top, vertically pointed branch of your tree. You traditional Christmas tree is complete!


  • Never use real candles on a Christmas tree. While they are often depicted in traditional Christmas photos and drawings, this is extremely dangerous, and can set your tree, children and pets on fire.
  • Use a ladder and supervision when hanging high ornaments and toppers. It is easy to lose your balance when reaching for the top branch, and assistance may be necessary.
  • Do not let children hang high ornaments or toppers. They can easily fall, harming themselves and knocking over the tree.
  • Do not let children play on the tree, or attempt to climb it.
  • Don't use heavy ornaments on weak branches. The branches can easily break, damaging your ornament.
Last Updated: October 20, 2011
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About Alexandra Kerr Through Ideal Home Garden, Alexandra covers topics ranging from interior design to home improvement, gardening and cuisine. Having a passion for cooking and entertaining in her own life, she hopes to communicate her love of home design and decorating with her readers. 

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