Are you wondering about the best way to hang lights on a Christmas tree? Follow my step-by-step instructions for how to get the best holiday tree you’ve ever had!
Everyone loves a tree that has that perfect magic twinkle. Whether you’re decorating an artificial Christmas tree or a real tree, the key to getting the glow we all love comes down to how you put the light strings on the tree.
I have a strong personal preference for the method I use because I believe it’s the easiest way to get the most twinkle. So today I’m sharing with you my best tips for how to brighten up your holiday season with a tree that sparkles.
I did have an artificial tree for a time that came pre-lit. But to be honest, I added extra lights to it because I didn’t think it was bright enough!
And then sure enough, before the end of the season was over, a whole section of lights on the tree died out. If you’ve ever tried to take a dead string of lights off a pre-lit tree, let me tell you it’s not fun!
So my preference is to not use a pre-lit tree and instead add the lights myself.
If you’re a video fan, you can scroll down below to watch the video version of this tutorial. Or follow along as walk through the steps here, and don’t forget to pin this post for later!
The Best Way to Light a Christmas Tree
Growing up my mom was the only one allowed to string the lights on our Christmas tree. She had a very specific method she used and way she wanted it to look, so she took the lead as the official Light Stringer Upper.
Once I became a teenager though she entrusted me with her special lighting technique, and then it became my job. What I learned from her is the way I’ve lit my tree ever since.
I never thought much about it until I was an adult, hosting my own holiday parties, and friends would ask how I got my tree so sparkly.
I learned that the way I hang lights is different than how most others do it and that this simple method is a trick I needed to share!
How to NOT Hang Your Lights
One of the most popular methods for putting lights on a tree is to just walk around the tree in circles and drape the lights on the tips of the branches.
I’m not gonna go so far as to call this the wrong way, but it can look sooo much better than this!
The problem with this method is that the center of the tree stays dark and your tree doesn’t really sparkle.
The lights run in lines and in between those lines the tree is filled with dark spots where your ornaments and other decorations just look dull.
You want your entire tree to sparkle and for all those tiny little lights to reflect off your gorgeous ornaments, creating lots of twinkle and shine!
Another method I’ve seen often used was originally shared online by Martha Stewart. What she suggested was to wrap each individual branch with lights, working your way from the bottom of the tree all the way to the top.
Now this method does produce a nice, sparkly tree, but it takes forever! And even worse, when it’s time to remove the lights, they get stuck on the branches and you wind up having a wrestling match with your tree.
So I am going to share today an alternative to Martha’s way; one that will produce maximum twinkle, but is easier to take on and off.
Because while decorating the tree is a bit of hard work, we don’t want to make it harder than it has to be!
Step-by-Step Guide to Hang Lights on a Christmas Tree
1. Gather your Supplies
If you’ve only ever strung your lights in straight lines around the tips of your tree branches, you will need more lights for this method. For my 9 ft tree, I use 10-12 strands of lights. You will also need a power strip and a dark-colored extension cord.
2. Plug In Your Power Strip and First Set of Lights
I always use a power strip plugged into the wall as the power source for my lights. This makes it easy for me to turn off all my lights by just tapping the button on the power strip with my foot, rather than reaching behind the tree to pull out a plug.
With your first strand of lights plugged into the power strip, you’re ready to start hanging them on the tree.
3. Start Laying on Lights at the Back of the Tree, Bottom Row of Branches
The first thing you do is pull your starting light strand inside the tree, all the way to the trunk. Simply lay it on the top of the first branch, do not wrap it.
Most artificial trees have “rows” of branches, and you want to start on your bottom-most row, on the back side of the tree.
Once you reach the trunk, then make a turn and lay the lights along the edge of the next branch, coming back out towards the tip.
When you reach the tip of the branch, turn again and lay the strand along the other edge of the branch, running back to the trunk.
4. Work Your Way Up the Tree, Row by Row
Essentially you are weaving the lights from tip to trunk and back again atop each branch of the tree.
This method gives you the super twinkly look of the Martha way, without the hassle of actually wrapping the branch. Instead the lights just sit on the top.
5. Run an Extension Cord Halfway Up the Trunk
When you reach the halfway point of the tree, you’ve probably already used 4-5 strings of lights, plugged in end to end. At this point, it’s best to not plug more strings into each other or you risk overloading the fuses and your lights going out!
For this reason, I plug a dark-colored extension cord into my power strip and then run it up the trunk of the tree to about the halfway point. Once I reach that part with my lights, I plug the top half of the lights into that extension cord.
I’ve found this is the best way to keep the large amount of lights from not shorting out.
6. Stand Back and Enjoy Your Sparkling Tree!
Finish going back and forth along all the branches of the tree, working your way up to the top. Any extra lights that are left I usually just wind down the back side of the tree, and then that’s where I start when I take all of the lights off.
Now it’s time to hang your ornaments and enjoy your gorgeous tree. I promise it will twinkle like it’s never twinkled before!
If you want to watch me actually string the lights, then check out my short video showing the process.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many sets of lights do I need for my tree?
For my tree, I usually use 10-12 strands of lights. The general rule of thumb is for every foot of tree you have, you will need 100 lights. However that can be more or less, depending on if your tree is thicker or thinner.
Do you start stringing the lights from the top or the bottom of the tree?
I always start with the bottom layer of branches, on the backside base of the tree. The bottom branches take the most time, so I like to get those out of the way first.
Will this method of hanging lights work on a real tree?
Real trees will of course be less uniform in their branches than artificial trees are. Because of that, this method is easiest on a fake tree. But you can light real tree branches this way, you will just need to push the lights into the tree until you reach the trunk, then run them back out to the tip of the branch. Start at the base of the tree and work your way up as suggested, realizing your lighting path may not be as straight and uniform as it would be if working with an artificial tree. Just work with the branches as they are naturally arranged.
What are the best kinds of lights to use?
I like to use mini lights rather than larger lights. The mini lights help produce the glow I want and disappear more into the tree. I also purchase lights with green wire, so the wire is camouflaged and less noticeable.
Can I use LED string lights?
Yes, you can use LED string lights if you want to save energy. I find that they are a starker, cleaner white and a bit brighter. If you want a more traditional off-white soft glow, then I would use incandescent lights instead. Just be sure to turn off your tree when you go to bed or leave your house to minimize any safety risk.
My favorite thing about using this method is how the tree literally glows from the inside! No more dark spots deep inside the tree. And as that light reflects off the ornaments, it produces a sparkling wonderland.
You also see each strand of lights a lot less because they are woven into the tree, not strung across dead space in between branches.
And once the holiday season is over and you’re ready to take the tree down, the lights come off easily!
Yes, this method will require a few more lights and a bit more time, but I promise you will love the final look.
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