The holiday season is full of sacred traditions, heart-warming nostalgia, friend and family gatherings…you know the deal. As we all move through the motions—hanging up decorations, cooking up festive feasts, exchanging gifts—we must remember that perfecting all of the holiday demands is a skill in itself. At the top of that list: hanging lights on your Christmas tree.
And every year, you probably run into the same set of dilemmas. Your Christmas tree is finally up, and you’ve spent the last 45 minutes slinging lights around its branches, taking chances with your rickety old ladder, investigating which broken bulb caused the entire string to turn off—the list goes on. And when you step back to take a look, the lights may be disorderly, or too dim, or maybe even too bright. While holiday decorating is, for the most part, a fun-loving and joyous affair, the inevitable annoyances can be a true damper, making our spirits slightly less bright. At the forefront of this list is decorating the Christmas tree, which often stumps even the holiday pros. To help you get it just right this year, we’ve compiled a guide on how to put lights on a Christmas tree. Read on for our favorite tips and tricks.
Tips & Tricks
The first thing you should consider before purchasing lights is the size of your tree. Most holiday decorators recommend 100-150 mini lights per foot. Here’s an easy guide:
- 6 Foot Tree: 600-900 lights
- 7 Foot Tree: 700-1050 lights
- 8 Foot Tree: 800-1200 lights
- 9 Foot Tree: 900-1350 lights
- 10 Foot Tree: 1000-1500 lights
Once you have your lights, plug them in to make sure they all work. There’s nothing worse than realizing you don’t have enough lights while in the middle of decorating.
And while you’re decorating, keep the lights plugged in—or plug them in as you go—so that you have a sense of how the tree looks when lit.
Types of Christmas Lights
Mini String Lights: Mini string lights are the most popular Christmas tree lights. They are great for creating a twinkling effect, and can be layered for a full-bodied look. They come in a variety of colors, and are very easy to handle.
Large Bulb Lights: Large bulb lights are higher impact, creating less of a twinkling effect and more of a subtle glow. We recommend these if you want moderate to low light.
Icicle Lights: Icicle lights are designed with one main string in which additional light-covered strings hang from. While these are traditionally used for outdoor holiday decorating, they are easy to hang from your tree and require less strings of lights, while still creating that same, full-bodied twinkle. That said, they can often come across less “neat.”
You've picked out the perfect fresh-cut Christmas tree—one that's vibrant green, fragrant, and filled with beefy branches to hang all your precious heirloom ornaments. Besides watering the tree, the next big task you'll have on your plate is decorating it. Tinsel, ribbons, and garland will spruce up any ornamented evergreen, but draping and weaving lights throughout the branches will truly help your tree sparkle.
Once you've completed the tedious chore of untangling lights and checking that each and every twinkling bulb works, it's time to start hanging them on the tree. You're probably accustomed to randomly wrapping lights around tree, starting at the base and working your way up. This year, we heard of an alternative technique that we can’t wait to try: String them vertically. Interior designer and entertaining expert Francesco Bilotto suggests stringing the lights from the top of the tree to the bottom, instead of from side to side.
"The reason I like doing this is if you go around in a circle, the lights tend to go in," Bilotto said on Today.com. Not to mention, by hanging the lights vertically, you don't have to worry about the bulbs being obstructed by sturdy branches in the middle.
Once you’ve checked that your light strands work, it’s time to get to work.
Take the end of the strand without the plug (you can hide this end in the branches. It can stay hidden, or you could connect it to a tree topper later). Starting at the top of the tree, let the lights cascade down to the bottom. Bilotto recommends draping the strand in an “S” shape down the front. Position the lights toward the tips of the branches so no bulb will be blocked by the fluffy needles.
When you’ve reached the bottom, start working the strand back up the tree in the same “S” shape. Leave 3 to 4 inches between the vertical rows of lights so they’re spread evenly throughout.
Repeat the top-to-bottom process until the entire tree is flooded in lights. Make sure the plug is at the bottom near an outlet or power cord.
"This way every tip of your tree, from branch to branch, will twinkle with delight," Bilotto told HouseBeautiful.com.
By incorporating Bilotto's illuminating method in the tree-trimming portion of your holiday decor, the lights will remain on the tips of the branches, as opposed to being hidden on the inside.
"Another added bonus is when you dismantle your tree and take off the lights, it'll be easier and less messy to remove strands from the exterior of the tree—rather than fighting a stubborn almost dried branch," Bilotto explained to HouseBeautiful.com.
And, of course, people took to social media to showcase their masterfully lit creations using Bilotto's vertical method.
If you need a visual aid, here's a video of Bilotto demonstrating the lighting technique .
WATCH: Christmas Lights Sugar Cookies
Of course, there is no right or wrong way to string lights, as long as you're following the necessary safety precautions. But even Southern traditionalists can appreciate a unique decorating tip that will help to elevate the tree and all its festive trimmings.
Horizontal, vertical, bottom-to-top. there are just so many options.
The job of stringing lights on your tree is no joke, and unless you have a team of elves to help you out, you’re likely all on your own to figure out an easy way to put lights on a Christmas tree. And even though this tedious task can be a headache, oh, the rewards! That glow can downright take your breath away!
Chances are you’ve been hanging lights on your tree the way your parents did. But believe it or not, there are a few different ways to light a Christmas tree. Online and off, questions abound: Do you hang Christmas tree lights horizontally or vertically? Do you go top-to-bottom, or bottom-to-top? Do you put lights on a Christmas tree first? (For the record, we say definitely yes to this!)
Before you start doubting (or changing) your stringing technique, we’ve got some good news: There really is no right or wrong way to light your tree. If your method of outfitting your tree suits you, stick with it—you’ve got no reason to change!
Still, it never hurts to try something new, which is one reason we’re sharing these tried-and-true Christmas lighting methods. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a more efficient way to tackle the annual task. Now get glowing!
Tip: Generally, plan for about 100 Christmas lights per foot; a 6-foot tree would get 600 lights.
How to Put Lights on a Christmas Tree Vertically
The vertical approach to hanging Christmas tree lights is a trend that started circulating a few years ago. This method ensures that the tree shines brightly, because the lights are more visible, as they are less likely to be covered up by branches. Bonus: It’s a whole lot easier to take them down once the holiday’s over!
- Plug in each strand of lights to make sure all the bulbs are in working order.
- Start with the plugless end of your lights at the top or bottom of the tree and let the lights lay vertically like a seam.
- Each time you reach the top or bottom, turn the lights back the other way until you have a sideways “S” pattern around the whole tree.
Tip: Hang shiny ornaments in the middle to help reflect the light for more depth.
How to Hang Christmas Tree Lights Horizontally
Hanging Christmas lights horizontally is the most widely used technique when it comes to decorating the tree. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but if this is your first time hanging lights, you’ll want to follow these directions:
- First, plug in each set of lights to make sure all the bulbs are working. (This will save you a lot of stress later.)
- Starting at the top or bottom of your tree (depending solely on preference), wrap the lights over and under the branches of the tree.
- You can mix things up by placing some lights “deeper” into the tree than others, and by alternating the patterns so that it looks more organic. Get creative with it, and have fun!
Tip: When you have to connect plugs, hide the eyesore by fastening the area to a branch with floral wire.
How to Hang Christmas Lights Top to Bottom
“I string my lights from top to bottom because your plug is at the end of the strand and closer to the bottom of the tree and outlet,” says The Home Depot’s director of trend and design Sarah Fishburne, making a solid case for this method. Plus, she says, if you run out of lights, it’s easier to spread them out this way—and it’s easier to add more lights to the bottom versus the top of the tree.
- Plug in the lights to make sure all the bulbs are working.
- Starting at the top of the tree, intertwine the lights on top of and under branches.
- Work your way down and around the tree, hanging lights in the back as well.
- When you reach the bottom, hide any extra lights behind the tree.
- If you want to add more lights, simply do another pass, starting again at the top and working your way down.
Tip: Make sure you wrap the lights loosely on each branch for the best overall affect.
How to Hang Christmas Lights Bottom to Top
The Home Depot’s Senior Merchandising Director Kelie Charles goes bottom to top because she can plug the lights in first. “It makes it easier to see what the lit tree will look like as I’m stringing the lights,” she says. Got extras? Just wind them back down. And if you run out, simply start a new string and run an extension cord down the back of the tree.
- Plug in the lights to make sure all the bulbs are working.
- Start at the bottom, zig zag Christmas tree lights through the tree in quadrants, section by section, versus around the tree.
- Place some lights deeper into the branches and place some closer to the front to create depth.
- Hide the lights’ connectors by pushing it deep into the tree branches near the trunk.
- Once you reach the top, you can either tuck the extra lights into the back of the tree or run an extension cord down the back to the outlet.
Tip: Try to avoid any obvious pattern or spiral; you want the lights to look natural.
‘Tis the season to hang the wreaths and string the Christmas tree lights. While a decorated tree always marks the start of the holiday season, the process to get it ready can take a lot of preparation, especially when working with an oversized Christmas tree. Whether your tree is 12 ft or 50 ft, consider the below DIY tips to install lights on a tall tree:
Use a painter’s pole
They say “go big or go home” and your Christmas tree is no exception. The difficulty with a tall Christmas tree can be figuring out how to install your lights from top to bottom. One way you can ensure those hard-to-reach limbs are lit is with a painter’s pole.
Start by removing the roller so that the metal hook is exposed. You may find you need to purchase a hook, which you can find at most home improvement stores. Before you begin stringing, make sure your lights are plugged into an outlet and extension cord, if you need one. You can then place the first strand of lights into the hook and slowly begin to work your way around the tree. As a pro tip, start from the bottom and work your way to the top, adjusting the pole’s length when needed.
Use a ladder
This Home had a Magnolia tree’s trunks wrapped in LED mini lights which looks spectacular. This service is called “Trunk Wrap”.
If you’re working with a tree that exceeds the length the painter’s pole can reach, a ladder might be the best option. When using a ladder to decorate your tree, always try to have another person spotting you to make sure the ladder stays stable. You might consider calling one of Santa’s little helpers to join in on the fun.
When using a ladder try to decorate as much of the tree as possible while on the ground. When you’re ready for a height boost wrap the light strings into a ball so that you can unravel as you go. This will also save you from climbing up and down the ladder as you run out of lights. Have your little helper walk the strings around the tree as you place them from limb to limb.
Click here to see an example
Tis tree has many minilights
● When hanging lights outside always assess the area for any safety or fire hazards.
● Consider using LED lights to save energy.
● Make sure your light strands don’t have any missing or broken bulbs.
● Always organize your lights before beginning your decoration festivities.
Anyone can string up some Christmas lights, but you aren’t just anyone. Follow our tips to become the envy of your neighbors and leave them wondering how you made your house look like it’s straight out of a Christmas movie.
Classic Home With Beautiful Christmas Lights Lining the Roof
This classic home is perfectly adorned with Christmas string lights for the holiday season. The beautiful string lights have been custom cut and fitted along the roof and windows to outline the home’s architectural features and emphasize the lines and shape of the house.
Photo by: Cassidy Garcia
Ever driven past a house that’s fully decked out for Christmas and wondered how the owner achieved such a beautiful feat? Not to mention — how could they afford so many Christmas lights? Truth is, with a few simple tips and tricks, lighting up your entire house with Christmas lights can be both easy and affordable. You just need to know a few insider tricks, so we’ve taken the time to share our best tips to help you have the most lit holiday house on your block.
Measure Before You Buy
Before you load up your shopping cart with boxes and boxes of Christmas lights, determine how many feet you’ll need (Image 1). Be sure to account for every spot you plan to illuminate, measuring spiraling locations, like front porch columns, using string (Images 2 & 3). Don’t forget to measure the distance to your nearest grounded outdoor outlet and plan accordingly.
Measuring a House Exterior for Christmas Lights
A measuring tape is used to measure a window on the exterior of a home for accurate fitting of Christmas string lights.
Photo By: Cassidy Garcia
Using String to Measure Column For String Lights
This man is seen wrapping string around a porch column to measure for custom-cut Christmas string lights. This method allows the lights to be cut at the exact length needed to cover the columns from top to bottom.
Photo By: Cassidy Garcia
Measuring String With a Measuring Tape
This string has been tied at a knot and a measuring tape is being used to measure the distance to the knotted portion of the string.
Photo By: Cassidy Garcia
Make a Diagram
To help yourself remember your plans once it’s time to hang the lights, make a diagram showing your measurements. Use this to calculate the materials needed using this equation: distance/6 = number of lights needed. This works for strands with 6-inch spacing, which we recommend using to achieve a fuller look.
Making Plans for Installing Christmas Lights on Home Exterior
These plans are for a home’s exterior Christmas lights to aid in the installation and measuring process. When cutting lengths from bulk spools of string lights, drawing out plans is a necessity.
Photo by: Cassidy Garcia
Buy Bulk Socket Lines Online
Buying bulk socket lines online rather than stringing together standard lights will save you money and offer a level of customization that is otherwise not achievable. With bulk lines, you simply cut off your desired length using wire cutters, make the male and female ends using vampire plugs and then screw in the bulbs (Images 1 to 3). Choose between C7 and C9 bulk socket lines or opt for a combo, but be sure to buy varying bulb sizes in the same color temperature for consistency. As you cut and assemble all your lines, label with clear tape to aid in future installation. Most importantly, be sure to test your lines before you go to the trouble of hanging them.
Cutting Christmas Tree String Lights With Pliers
Pliers are used to cut bulk Christmas string lights to a custom length. The wire is made to be cut to a custom length and fitted with ends for perfectly sized string lights.
Photo By: Cassidy Garcia
Installing Clips on Bulk String Lights
Clips are installed on the ends of bulk string lights to allow them to plug into one another.
Photo By: Cassidy Garcia
Putting Together Bulk String Lights for Christmas
Clips are added to the ends of bulk string lights to allow them to plug into one another.
Photo By: Cassidy Garcia
Time to hang some lights! The best way to create a fully illuminated look is to work from the top down. Safety first: Before climbing the ladder, get someone to spot you and securely hold the ladder to prevent any shifting (Image 1). On roof lines, use universal clips to fasten lights under shingles and onto gutters (Image 2). For more difficult areas like cement and brick chimneys, hot glue will effectively hold the lights in place. This tip works for metal surfaces as well; just secure the lines with painter’s tape until the hot glue hardens (Image 3). Where appropriate, wrap lights and greenery together to pack a double dose of Christmas cheer (Image 4). Lastly, secure garland and power cords with zip ties so they don’t stray or fall (Image 5).
I tried something new on my Christmas tree this year and it has totally changed the way that I will decorate our tree – forever!
Let me back up a beat.
There is always a debate in our house – real tree vs. fake tree.
Sean grew up with a real tree, and really loves them.
I get it – real trees smell so good, and look… real. They are classic and beautiful.
But I love a fake tree. It’s just so easy and – the best part – they come pre-lit.
I have always hated putting lights on a tree. I spent so long going round and round and wrapping the branches.
My hands get sticky with sap and everyone wants me to hurry up so we can put on the ornaments.
Well, no more, because now I am doing vertical Christmas lights and it is so, so much easier!
How do you hang vertical string lights?
First, start towards the back or outlet that your lights will be plugged into. I go ahead and plug in the first strand.
Start at the bottom of the tree at the point closest to the outlet.
Take the strand all the way up to the top of the tree, stopping before you get to the single poking up branch that is usually there.
Fold the wire and bring it back down the tree, spacing it over a few inches.
Once you reach the bottom of the tree, take a moment to decide if you want the strands further out the branches (they are more noticeable) or closer to the trunk (they look fainter but the wire is more hidden.) I like to do a mixture of the two to add dimension.
Continue until your strand runs out.
Plug in the next strand and tuck any non-lighted section of the strand deep into the tree so it’s hidden.
Repeat until the tree is fully lit!
I used 3 standard strands for our 9 foot tree and then went back with two strands of globe string lights, just across the front portion of the tree (since our tree is in a corner). I love the extra pop of the globe lights!
Remember that ornaments will hide a lot of the cords, so don’t get too worried about tucking it perfectly.
Why is stringing Christmas tree lights vertically better than the traditional horizontal method?
The main reason that it is so much easier to hang your string lights vertically is because you only have to do one loop around your tree.
To hang lights horizontally, you go round and round. This makes it take forever and leaves a bit of room for error.
When you hang them using the vertical method, you only go around the tree once. It’s easier to step back and assess each section at a time to be sure you like the amount of lights in it.
Check out this video to see exactly how I strung the lights vertically on our tree this year!
With some precautions and a game plan you can tackle this festive task.
Nothing is more festive than decorating your home with twinkling holiday lights, but if this is your first year attempting an install, the prospect can be daunting. Even so, experts say it doesn't have to be. "If you're an able bodied person who's not scared of heights, you can hang your own lights," says Scott Parrish, a professional light installer with Illuminight Holiday Lighting in Chicago. Here, he tells us how.
Whether you're a lighting novice or have been doing it for years, always take proper precautions. "Always realize you're one missed step away from the hospital," warns Parrish. "Seriously, we wear harnesses, almost never use ladders since they are too dangerous, and are very conscious of how we move and go about laying extension cords to avoid trip hazards," Parrish explains. He stresses that you should also never set foot on a wet or icy roof.
Know When It’s Time to Call a Pro
But there are certain cases where you should call a professional, like if you want to hang lights on your roof, have a complicated design in mind, or if you don't want to be out in the cold during the installation, he adds.
Gather Your Supplies
Before you start, spend a little time wrangling the right tools. You'll need a sturdy ladder (like a gorilla ladder or an extension ladder), clips, electrical tape, extension cords, tri-taps, timers and zip ties.
Figure Out the Amount of Electricity to Power Your Display
"Without enough power, we can't do anything," Parrish explains. Depending on the type of light you're using (options include incandescent, LED, mini lights, C7, C9, or Icicle lights) you can figure out the total amount of watts you need. Each light should have a little UL sticker that tell you the amount, he says. Once you know the wattage, you can multiply them by however many sets of lights or bulbs you have. "A general rule of thumb is that each outlet can hold about 17 amps or 1,870 watts, and that's only if the lights are not sharing a circuit breaker with another outlet." Plan accordingly. Run the power so you know where to start hanging lights.
When it comes to type of light, he prefers LED to incandescent. Even though they cost more up front, they last longer and are much brighter and durable than incandescent lights, he says. They also use a lot less electricity. And because you can plug so many of them back to back, you don't need to worry about overloading the fuses that come with the lights.
Decide What Features of your Home to Spotlight
Keep your budget in mind. If you can spend a little more, wrap lights around big trees. "They have the most impact and really are beautiful to look at," he says. For a more modest budget, do smaller trees and some roof lighting. For small budgets, focus on the entrance to your home and bushes.
How to Hang
Start with the biggest or highest feature first. Whether it's a tree or the roof, always work top to bottom. That way, you're not stepping on or breaking anything. If you're lighting a tree, set the extension cord in the middle of the tree, put a tri-tap on it, and start running lights from it. Wrap around each branch and keep going until you're at the tips. Once again, start from the middle and go to the top and highest points first. You don't want to step on your lights and break them, which is the risk if you start low and go high. If you're having the roof done, the experts start by putting the bulbs into the sockets to fit the run. Then, they we put on the clips as they put up the lights. When the workers finish a run, they tape up the ends so no water gets inside and put a plug on the other end and connect it to the power supply. Finally, set the timers to when you want the lights to come on!
The secret to decorating a beautiful Christmas tree is simple: Style in layers! Get more of our editor’s best tips for Christmas tree decorating with these step-by-step instructions.
One of my favorite things to do every Christmas season is driving or walking through neighborhoods and catching glimpses of festive Christmas trees in living room windows, decked out in lights, garlands, and ornaments. Decorating a Christmas tree is a time-honored tradition in many households. More than 95 million households in the United States displayed a Christmas tree in 2018, according to a survey from the American Christmas Tree Association. The elements that go into decorating a Christmas tree—lights, garland, tinsel, and ornaments—are familiar to nearly everyone. But when it comes to creating a holiday tree that expresses your style, personality, heritage, and surroundings, the options are virtually limitless. The best Christmas trees are filled with layer upon layer of memories, traditions, and ornaments—both handcrafted and store-bought.
Not sure how you want to decorate your tree this year? We have plenty of Christmas tree theme ideas, along with handmade ornament ideas that let you put a personal touch on your holiday decor. Once you've found your inspiration, follow our three easy steps for decorating a Christmas tree like a pro.