How to decorate your Christmas tree

Living room decorated for Christmas
Helen Stone,-Interiors Writer

Dress your tree for festive success with everything you need to create a fabulous fir

We can thank the Victorians for making the Christmas tree the biggest yule tradition but decking our homes with firs has far deeper roots (pun intended). It was the ancient pagans who, faced with the bleakness of winter, used branches of evergreen as a reminder that the seasons are cyclical and that spring will soon return. The sentiment remains, but these days we usually have a few more baubles to play with. Whether you choose a real tree or a faux fir – and both have their merits – it’s how you dress it that counts. 

‘Demand for artificial trees has seen a big increase over the last 10 years,’ says Jason Billings-Cray, Partner & Christmas Buyer. ‘The latest trees look more realistic and they are more convenient – they are easy to put up, there are no dropping needles and, with careful storage, they can be used year after year.’

Tree decorating tree

Start with the right tree

Whether real or artificial, it’s worth paying a bit extra to get the size, shape and look you want for your tree. Take measurements before you shop, bearing in mind the height of your ceiling and how much space you have for the diameter of the tree at its base.

John Lewis offers 65 artificial trees to suit different themes and schemes. Where to start? Check out the virtual reality facility on the John Lewis app to see how different options would look in your room (download the app for Apple or Android). Short on space? Choose one of the slimmer designs. Looking for something dramatic? Go large with a 9ft Brunswick or Newington.

Among the realistic trees, there are several shades to choose from. 'Classic green trees are very versatile and can suit any setting or decorating scheme,' says Jason. 'The emerald green of Peruvian is bright and eye-catching while the Brunswick is more of a golden rustic green,' he adds. Blue spruce trees have a soft powdery aesthetic which suits pastels and champagne decorations while white trees can suit icy blue and silver tones, or go all out with lights and colour in Technicolour Supernature style. 

Take time to arrange the tree to create a good framework (allow a good 20-30 minutes for a tall tree). Let the branches in each layer “fall” into position before separating them out and arranging so that the tree looks bushy and natural. Your tree should be so thick it’s impossible to see between the branches from front to back. 

Whale bauble

Cover all bases

Tree skirts are a quick, easy way to hide metal stands and add some final polish. Place your tree skirt over the stand before you start to assemble your tree – a great tip is to slip a piece of cardboard under the stand to prevent indents on carpets or scratches on wooden floorboards. 

Stacking gifts under the tree covers the skirt but there’s also an opportunity to add another level of decoration here with oversized baubles and novelty room decorations in your chosen theme (find inspiration in our 7 themes for 2021).

how to decorate a Christmas tree

Let it shine

In the same way that decorations should complement each other, your choice of lights should complement the tree. There are plenty of styles and colours to choose from including cool white varieties with a blue-ish light, pure white ones with a soft white light and warm white lamps with a comforting golden glow – and that’s before you get on to the multi-coloured ones.

A pre-lit tree saves on the untangling and arranging of endless lengths of fairy lights and the hunt for dead bulbs. And there is always the option to add more lights if you want to. 

Plug in any line lights before arranging, then once they’re on the tree stand back and squint every so often to see if you’ve left any dark holes. ‘Don’t scrimp by avoiding winding lights around the back of the tree,’ advises the buying team. ‘You’ll achieve much greater depth if you work around the whole tree.’ Tuck wires in as you go, winding the wire around a branch here and there to secure the lights in position. Choose lights with a wire colour that will blend with your tree and aim for 50 bulbs per foot of tree, 100 if you really want to shine.

How to decorate your tree base

Add sprays and garlands

It takes a lot of baubles to fill a tree so those in the know start with something bigger. ‘To create that feeling of abundance, I use Christmas sprays such as our holly spray to create extra fullness and shape,’ says Jason. ‘And for extra interest, I add larger decorations such as our pheasant and reindeer decorations. Placed at the bottom and off centre, these bigger pieces make a statement, create a nice flow, and fill space within the tree.’

Garlands will also add texture, fullness and rhythm to your tree – a well-placed garland can lead the eye up and down and from side to side. Aim for two to four garlands for a 7ft tree and perhaps 8-12 sprays. If you are missing the natural touch, fresh foliage from the garden can be a great addition here.

Christmas tree ideas

On with the baubles

There are no hard-and-fast rule about how many decorations you’ll need for your tree but an organised approach here will really pay off. 

Separate out your final flourish designs from the staples and divide by colour and shape. ‘Boxed baubles are ideal for filling the tree with colour and creating impact, and then special individual decorations are added to be just that: special,’ says Jason. Arrange across the face of the tree, mixing shapes and materials and avoiding clumping them together. Finish with the special designs, placing them mostly at eye level where they will have the most impact. 

‘I love when a decoration has significance, whether it’s a bauble that represents a favourite animal or pastime, or baubles that take on memories which will come flooding back every Christmas they are unpacked and placed on the tree,’ says Jason. The topper is the final flourish. Traditional star, fairy or something totally unique such as one of our neon lights… choose something that makes it special for you this year.

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