Today is my mom’s birthday. And my mom’s birthday is inextricably linked with Christmas trees. See growing up we always had a live tree, and it seems like we would put up our tree on or around my mom’s birthday every year. I thought my mom’s Christmas trees were beautiful.
While I’ve always known her trees were beautiful, I haven’t always known it was a skill to be learned or a talent to be developed. I just figured you picked out some cute ornaments in some cute colors and then you hung them on a tree and added some lights and wah-lah a beautiful tree.
Well, as you probably know that is not how it works. Decorating a Class A beautiful tree is actually an art and a skill and a project and it takes a lot of work.
Year after year I would struggle to get my tree to look like my mom’s, but it just wasn’t as pretty. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong until finally I realized that my mom had a secret set of skills and tips that she uses each year when she decorates her tree.
Here a few things that my mom and I think make a beautiful Christmas tree (in our opinion)…
1. Lights- First let me say you can never have too many lights. It takes way more strands then you think to light a tree. I prefer all white lights, but whatever color you choose, less is NOT more. When in doubt, add another strand or two. And don’t just circle the lights around the outside of the tree. Weave the lights in to the trunk and out to the tips as you go around.
2. Sizes- Vary the sizes of the ornaments you place on the tree. Don’t just go out and buy box after box of the same size balls. I have about 4 different size balls on my tree- huge, large, regular, and mini. Plus I have long icicles and short ones. The different sizes creates interest.
3. Shapes- The standard ball is great but don’t use it exclusively. And interest with other shapes on your tree. My mom adds musical instruments and snowflakes on her tree. I use pinecones, icicles, birds, and bows in addition to balls.
4. Variety- As mentioned above, choose a variety of shapes and sizes with your ornaments, but also choose a variety of textures and materials. My tree is a mix of nature and glam. I use pinecones, birds, and gingerbread paired with glass and icicles and ribbon and crystals. I also have a bunch of random, unique ornaments too. Also, vary the weight of ornaments. Choose some heavy, grounding ornaments and some light, airy ornaments so that the tree can feel balanced.
5. Reflection- The most beautiful trees reflect and refract light so you need to use materials on your tree that can play with light like metal or glass or crystals. You also need ornaments that allow light to pass through them. Maybe it is sheer ribbon or glass balls. If your tree is all opaque, the lights can’t bounce off anything making it look very one dimensional. So while gingerbread men and candy canes and pine cones can be cute, they need to be paired with materials like glass and mirror and metal to allow light to bounce and transfer throughout the tree.
6. In and Out- Now that you have all your ornaments picked out, you need to know where to place them. And I’ve learned you just don’t hang them on the tips of the branches. You put some way in by the trunk and some out on the boughs and some in the middle. You create dimension by placing ornaments in and out on the tree.
7. Up and Down- This tip is similar to in and out. You just don’t hang ornaments dangling from the boughs; you also need to create some interest on top of the boughs. Otherwise the whole tree points down. So I have birds, bird nests, and ribbons that sit on top of branches, and I have ornaments and icicles and pine cones that hang down. You create a pretty visual by using the tops and bottoms of branches.
8. Unify- With all your different sizes and shapes and variety you will want to unify your tree. The most common way to do this is through color. Stick to a few basic colors or one or two that you repeat throughout the ornaments. While I have several shapes, sizes, objects, ornaments, materials etc. they are all in neutral colors. I stuck with silvers, golds, browns, bronzes, clears and whites. Another way to unify your tree is to pick one theme to continue throughout. My mom’s tree is a music tree. A garland is an easy way to unify a tree because it goes from the top to the bottom of the tree.
9. Placement- Start with your biggest ornaments first and spread them around the tree, then work to your tiniest ornaments. Fill in big holes first. Step back often and assess. And while thought should go into where the ornaments are placed, they shouldn’t be perfectly symmetrical or perfectly placed. You can have clusters and then empty spaces. You don’t want your tree to look like you tried too hard, even though you worked your buns off.
10. Decorate the Back- Sometimes we want to take shortcuts and only decorate the part of the tree that is showing out to the world. But if you don’t decorate the back too, your tree and your guests and your conscience know it. Light can’t bounce through the whole tree. The tree will lack depth and it will look one dimensional. Your tree is like a person. It is important to be beautiful inside and out, not just on the front.
(In case you are wondering, I have two trees. One that I let the kids decorate with all of their ornaments and random ones we have received throughout the years and then there is my baby.)
Although my tree isn’t quite up to par with my moms, I am getting there and it is looking pretty dang good. But now my girls will know that our tree just didn’t poof into beautiful existence. It takes practice and skill and these 10 tips to decorate a beautiful Christmas tree.