xmas lights in garland by the window

How to put lights on a Christmas tree

Whether you've opted for an artificial or a real tree this year, hanging lights on your Christmas tree will give it a glow and ensure it looks its best.

You might think there's nothing more to lighting up a Christmas tree than unfurling a string of lights randomly around it. While this may be technically correct, it's worth taking a little more time and care over the positioning of your tree lights. Doing this will make your tree stand out and produce a beautiful effect that will wow your family and friends.

xmas candle ornament

A real Christmas tree will always look outstanding with well-hanging lights.

Choosing the right colour for your lights

Before you even get the tree out and fluff up the branches, you should decide what kind of lights you want. Are you aiming for the jubilant colourful glow of multi-coloured bulbs? Or do you prefer the more serene look that comes from white lights? If you choose white, you then need to decide whether you prefer a cool tone or a warm glow.

When choosing the colour for your Christmas tree lights, consider the rest of your décor. An eclectic mix of decorations will be complemented by an array of bright, colourful lights. Cool white lights work well with silver and blue tones, while warm white lights beautifully enhance gold and jewel hues.

star bauble

Co-ordinate your lights with existing Christmas decorations to produce the best effect.

What are LED lights and how do they work?

LED lights are fast becoming the first choice for decorating Christmas trees. They've been the preferred choice of professionals for years, and it's easy to see why households are getting in on the act.

LED lights last up to 5 times longer than traditional incandescent lights and are much kinder to the environment. As well as needing to be replaced less frequently, LED lights use less energy, which is great for keeping your bills at bay. They also produce very little heat, so they are cool to the touch and safe to keep on for longer periods. (Although we always recommend lights are switched off overnight and before leaving the house.)

LEDs use diodes rather than filaments and are much less likely to break than incandescent bulbs. They may cost slightly more up-front, but the fact they last so long and are less prone to breakages means they cost less in the long run.

multi-coloured xmas lights on trees

LED lights produce a bright glow that make your Christmas tree sparkle.

When do the lights go on the tree?

We'd always advise putting lights on the tree before adding any other decorations.

Firstly, before you even begin to untangle the string lights, plug them in to check they work. There's no point wasting time detangling fairy lights that don't work! Check the bulbs to ensure each one works and that there's no damage to the string or the lights. Then unplug them and get busy getting all those twists and knots. (Read our guide to ensuring your lights don't end up in a tangled mess to make life easier next year.)

It's much easier to position your Christmas lights and make sure the branches get evenly lit when the tree is bare. Adding the lights first also means you can hide any exposed wires with tinsel or garlands, and you won't knock off any precious baubles when stringing lights around them.

How many lights does a Christmas tree need?

Many experts loudly advise on the number of lights a Christmas tree needs, but really there is no right or wrong answer. The number of lights you choose will largely depend on how wide or narrow your tree is, the size of the bulbs and the overall effect you're looking to achieve.

However, as a general rule, aim for 100 lights per 1-2 feet of the tree. For example, a 6-foot tree would require 300-600 bulbs.

For some people, there's no such thing as too many lights. Others prefer to let the baubles take centre stage. Try to reach a happy medium somewhere between sparse and overflowing. Step back every now and again to examine the effect, and you'll be able to tell whether or not you have enough lights.

xmas lights box

The 'correct' number of lights on your tree is down to personal taste.

How to put lights on a Christmas tree like a pro

Once your lights have been untangled, plug them back in before you start placing them on the tree. Doing this ensures the wires are long enough and that any extension cord is in the right place.

As long as they're hung safely, and you're happy with the effect, there isn't really a wrong way to hang your Christmas tree lights. However, if you'd like your tree to have that extra 'wow' factor, you might want to try something a little different.

How to hang Christmas lights horizontally

Most people hang their lights horizontally when decorating the Christmas tree. It is a great way to accentuate the tree's natural shape and helps keep the string hidden among the branches.

Start at the bottom of the tree, close to the socket and drape your lights along the bottom layer of branches. Wind your way around the tree, moving up to the next layer of branches as you complete the circle. Carry on upwards until you have put lights around the whole tree.

Create depth by placing some lights towards the front of the branches and some lights deeper towards the trunk.

star christmas light

Wrap the lights horizontally around the tree for a more traditional look.

How to hang Christmas lights vertically

Hanging Christmas tree lights vertically on the tree has been popular for a good few years now. One of the key reasons is that it can be so much easier and quicker than hanging them horizontally. Not only that, but it also creates a gorgeous effect and ensures each and every bulb can be seen.

Start at the bottom of the tree, and lead the first strand of lights to the top before folding the wire over a branch and bringing it back down to the bottom, leaving a few inches between the up and down strands. Repeat with each strand of lights. Keep going all the way around the tree to create a pattern of triangular sections, like mountains going up and down.

Putting lights up vertically means you only have to go around the tree once, and makes it much easier when you don't have much space to keep circling the tree. Come January, the lights will be much easier to take back down again too.

Mix things up a little

To really outdo your neighbours' Christmas tree lighting, mix your lights up a little. This can add even more Christmas cheer. By this, we don't mean getting the strands twisted and tangled! Rather, use different sizes of lights to add variation and interest to your tree's design.

Don't be tempted to place all the larger bulbs towards the bottom of the tree, and the smaller ones nearer the tip. While this might seem natural as the tree gets slimmer with height, you'll be able to add more depth by stringing larger lights all over your tree and adding small twinkling lights in between them.

Alternatively, decorate your tree with white bulbs and add extra lights in a colour that complements your festive décor. A few multicoloured lights shimmering through will also add some extra sparkle to your tree unexpectedly.

The key to successfully mixing lights is not to go overboard. Choose a base size and colour then add a few more lights to work in and around them.

xmas tree decorating

There's no rule saying Christmas tree lights all have to be the same size or colour.

Tips and considerations to safely hang tree lights

In all the excitement to get the lights on and start decorating the Christmas tree, it can be easy to get carried away and cut some safety corners. However, nobody wants a ruined Christmas tree or, worse still, a trip to A&E that could have been easily prevented. These tips will ensure you and your tree stay merry and bright.

  • Check the tree is secure and steady before you begin.

  • Make sure your lights carry the British Safety Kite mark or CE Safety Standard mark.

  • Inspect each bulb for damage that could lead to cuts or shocks.

  • Keep a close eye on pets and young children, who might swallow a bulb.

  • Turn the lights off at the wall before trying to fix any bulbs or stands.

  • Don't overload power sockets.

  • Keep the extension cord tucked away to prevent them from becoming a tripping hazard.

  • Use a step ladder to reach the high branches.

red mini house xmas bauble

Around 1,000 people are injured by their Christmas tree every year. Take a little time to ensure you're not one of them.

There's no right or wrong way to hang lights on a Christmas tree. Everybody has their own opinions on fairy lights or LED lights, how many strands look best and whether to use coloured or white Christmas lights for the best effect. The main thing is that you hang your Christmas tree lights safely and wrap them around the tree using the easiest and most effective method for you and your family.

A Christmas tree isn't really a Christmas tree without lights. Whether you opt for just a few light strands or cover your entire tree with Christmas lights, there are few cosier sights than a well-lit tree during the festive season.

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