Who isn’t a fan of wintry strolls down the street where you catch glimpses of beautifully dressed fir trees glowing in windows? For interiors enthusiasts, it’s one of the highlights of the festive season and provides an acceptable excuse for peeking into sitting rooms—to steal holiday décor ideas, of course. If you want to join in the fun, read on for our step-by-step guide to decorating your own enviable Christmas tree to be enjoyed by friends, family and neighbors alike.

A close-up of a Christmas tree decorated with baublesA close-up of a Christmas tree decorated with baubles
A festive set-up of a Christmas tree surrounded by presents in a farm-house style roomA festive set-up of a Christmas tree surrounded by presents in a farm-house style room

Find the Perfect Spot

Before you haul your faithful faux fir out of storage or pick out a brand-new tree, have a plan for where in your home you’ll display it. Popular spots include the entryway, the sitting room or family room, or anywhere you have a taller, wider window from which it can be admired by those inside and out. The best places to set it up are where it will be most visible and accessible. If you’re picking a new tree and/or a new spot, measure your preferred space and bring the measuring tape along when you head to the nursery. Once you’ve placed your tree and securely set it in its stand, fluff its branches—this will help artificial trees look more natural and real trees healthier. There are plenty of step-by-step guides online if you need a bit of instruction.

Pick a Theme and Color Scheme

Now it’s time to start decorating. Choosing a theme, or at least a color scheme before you start, will make decisions regarding toppers, light color temperature and baubles easier. Do you want a green, red and gold Christmas tree to match a traditional, nostalgic style, or do you have your eye on some elegant Christmas tree decorations that would fit best with a more modern look? Think about your personal preferences and what would look best in your home, taking into consideration any ornaments you already own that you might want to use.

A wooden staircase decorated with a garland, candles and ornamentsA wooden staircase decorated with a garland, candles and ornaments
Glass and honeycomb Christmas deocrations on a black tray Glass and honeycomb Christmas deocrations on a black tray

It’s Time to Light the Lights

With your theme in mind, pick out your lights. Choose yellow-toned lights to match a warmer color scheme or more traditional look. Cooler or white lights look great as part of a modern look or an icy, “winter wonderland” theme, while multi-colored lights lend a playful feel to the festive season. Whichever you choose, make sure the color of the cord matches the color of your tree, to ensure it blends in as much as possible.

To string your lights around the tree, it’s best to start from the outlet, partly because it’s easiest to keep track of what you’re doing when the lights are actually on. At the base of the trunk—sticking as close as possible to the center of the tree—begin to wrap the cord around the larger branches, working your way up to the top. If you have cord left over, work back towards the bottom and outwards towards the ends of the branches. Starting from the inside will give your tree a more organic, 3-dimensional look.

Add Other Decorative Elements

Once your lights are strung, it’s a good time to add garlands, bows, strands of beads and any other decorative elements that are larger than baubles, such as picks and sprays of berries, pinecones, foliage or icicles for a natural touch. If you’re adding a garland, we recommend starting from the top and winding your way down the tree, taking care not to bunch too many branches together. Gauzy or metallic ribbons, strings of dried orange slices, or the classic popcorn and cranberry combination are popular traditional garlands; make sure to avoid wrapping them too tightly around the trunk so that they’ll be seen. Alternatively, red velvet bows make a tree look especially sumptuous if you want ribbon on your Christmas tree.

Though they seem like finishing touches, it’s easiest to add tree toppers at this point before delicate baubles are hung. For the ultra-traditional, angels and stars remain popular choices, while others “branch out” to sunbursts, paper rosettes, white doves, fairies, gnomes or bows. As fans of mixing and matching, we like the idea of opting for a topper just because you love it, whatever your chosen theme.

Baubles handing from a treeBaubles handing from a tree

Hang the Ornaments

And now for the fun part, where you can really express your chosen theme: the ornaments. Those of us who haven’t collected a lifetime’s worth of quirky individual pieces may choose to coordinate hues with a handy multi-colored set of glass or paper baubles. If you’re wondering how many ornaments are needed for a large, 7.5-foot tree, you might look for approximately 100–150 baubles, depending on its size and whether you’d like it to look jam-packed or a bit lighter on its feet. It’s a good idea to limit yourself to three or four colors, and a variety of finishes, from shiny to sparkly to matte, to give your tree a sense of depth. Hang larger baubles closer to the inside of the tree and towards the bottom, so they don’t weigh the branches down. Place smaller baubles higher up. Then, weave in any sentimental or visually interesting ornaments you’d like to feature prominently.

Give your tree a dusting of tinsel if you wish—with recycled and plastic-free varieties now available, there’s no need to feel guilty if you’re a fan of this retro look.

Add a Skirt

Finally, when you’ve finished making the rounds, cover up your tree’s stand with a festive skirt. Red and white felt makes a classic contrast with a natural green tree, but you’ll find options available for any color scheme, as well as alternatives such as wicker collars and white fabrics mimicking snow or fur.

To get a head start on decorating, explore our Holiday Edit.