A mother and daughter decorating a Christmas tree

Decorating a Christmas tree seems like it should be a no-brainer—put up tree, string lights, add ornaments, done! But when a tree isn’t quite right for the space or is decorated with too-small ornaments or by children who can only reach halfway up, it can quickly become a bit of a mess. So, the question is, how do you choose the right Christmas tree and decorate it without breaking the bank, ruining the fun or having to start over after the kids go to bed? We’ve got the goods.

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1Real vs Artificial Trees

Real christmas tree versus fake tree

The first decision to make is real versus fake and it really comes down to your home, your budget and how much upkeep you’re willing to take on.[1]

Real Trees

Pros Cons
They’re nostalgic for many people, and the annual outing to choose a real tree is steeped in tradition. It can be expensive to purchase a tree year after year.
Most varieties smell incredible. They need to be watered throughout the season so they don’t dry out too quickly.
They’re biodegradable and recyclable. They can be a fire hazard if they become too brittle.
Purchasing a real tree grown in Canada supports the local economy. They will drop their needles, which can be messy.

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Artificial Trees

Pros Cons
They’re convenient and low maintenance. They’re made from plastic, which means they’re destined for a landfill one day.
They won’t make a mess. They may not look very realistic.
They’re often treated with flame retardant. They don’t have the wonderful aroma of a real tree.
You may save money in the long run if you use the tree year after year. You’ll have to find room to store them in the off-season.

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Pink Christmas tree

If you love to create a unique aesthetic in your living space, you might want to try one of these trends.

  • Colourful or white: Anti-traditional? Go pink, white or red.
  • Flocked: Nostalgic and cozy, trees with faux snow scream 1940s and ’50s holiday.
  • Pencil: This long, narrow type of tree takes up less floor space.
  • Upside down: Yep, you can now buy trees that are inverted.

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3Height and Width

Christmas trees of various heights

Leave at least six inches between the tree and the ceiling, including a topper of any kind. Some people like tall, skinny trees—especially in an apartment or condo—while others go for a fuller look. For a traditional, proportionate aesthetic, the tree should be 1.5 to two times as tall as it is wide.

4Lights

Christmas tree covered in lights

There are a few common guidelines where lights are concerned, for both your home and your tree. If you’re wondering how to choose Christmas lights or how to install them properly, check out our full Christmas Lights Buying Guide.

  • Buy lights: Make sure you have at least 100 for every foot of tree. If your favourite part of the tree is the lights, you may want to double or triple that number.
  • Check the bulbs: Plug in each string of lights to make sure the strand works and all bulbs are lit. If any have burned out, replace them.
  • Start from the bottom: Plug in your lights to make sure they reach, then begin looping around the tree, zigzagging back and forth from the outer branches to the trunk and back again. If you stick too closely to the outside of the tree, you won’t get that inner glow you’re after.
  • Attach strands as you go: Wrap one strand at a time and then join the next strand before wrapping further. That way you’ll ensure each strand links properly and is connected to the power source.

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5Ornaments

Shatterproof Christmas tree ornaments

Christmas is supposed to be fun, so don’t stress so much about the tree that you stop enjoying the decorating process. It’s okay to want a pretty tree but take it in stride (especially if you have kids who want to help!). That said, here are some easy ways to get the professional look you want.

  • Choose a theme or colour scheme: Pull together the overall look by buying ornaments, lights, garland and ribbon in the same style (like rustic or retro) or colour palette. If you have an eclectic collection of sentimental ornaments that don’t really match, stick to one or two colours for filler balls and additional accessories.
  • Use the right number of ornaments: You’ll have to take into account a few different things: tree height, width and your desired amount of coverage. Some people prefer a minimalist look, while others love to weigh down the branches with as many ornaments as the tree will hold. This ornament calculator where you can plug in tree height, bottom diameter and preferred density of baubles to find a more specific ornament number for your tree and aesthetic.
  • Choose ornaments that fit: Larger ornaments anchor the look of the tree, while medium and small ornaments fill holes. Try to avoid overly large ornaments on small trees and super small ornaments on big trees if you’re trying to create a pro effect.
  • Work from top to bottom: Starting at the top, where the tree is the smallest, allows you to easily check your work as you go. Decorate a foot of tree, then stand back to see where you might need to rebalance ornaments.

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6Ribbon and Garlands

Christmas tree decorated with ribbon

Adding garland or ribbon to a Christmas tree is an affordable way to decorate because you’ll need fewer ornaments to fill space. Look for thick, wired ribbon. You want it to be visible and moldable so you can shape it however you choose. Now, pick a look:

  • A cascade: Light and decorate the tree first. Then clip four-to-six lengths of ribbon a little taller than the tree. Secure it to the top and arrange it in curls down the tree. Tuck it into the branches so it stays put. Check out this helpful cascading ribbon video tutorial for more tips.
  • A gauzy effect: For an ethereal look, light the tree with as many strands as you can manage and then decorate. Next, with rolls of sheer ribbon or mesh, loosely wrap the tree, leaving room between the branches and the ribbon. The tree will look like the ribbon is swirling around it. Watch this easy gauzy ribbon tutorial before you break out your supplies.
  • Artful bows: Once the tree is lit and decorated, take a step back and look for sparse, dark spots. Tie large bows from lengths of ribbon and wire them to the branches where the tree has holes. Make your own tree bows with the help of this DIY video.
  • Traditional garlands: Light the tree but don’t decorate yet. Starting at the top, wrap the tree with beaded garlands or tinsel, an inch or two in from the tips of the branches. Once the garland is in place, decorate the tree with some ornaments in front of the garland and some behind.

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7Tree Skirts

White fur Christmas tree skirt

A tree skirt hides the tree stand and completes the effect. Source one that fits your aesthetic, or one that completely blends with the carpet or floor.

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8Toppers

Child putting a star topper on a Christmas tree

Buy or craft a topper that fits your theme or colour palette. The bigger the tree, the larger the topper should be. Angels and stars are the traditional choices but just about anything can work—from an oversized bow to a reindeer or Santa Claus.

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This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.