How to arrange lights on a Christmas tree

To many, bringing your cherished box of Christmas tree lights down from the loft signals the beginning of Christmas, but it’s not all fun and games once you tear it open.

Inside, a tangled mess of lights may await, while finding the one faulty bulb that’s letting the whole string down can be a nightmare. And that’s before you’ve even started to think about getting the lights on the tree.

Horizonal? Vertical? Bottom-to-top? Top-to-bottom? Before the decorations or after?!

Have a glug of mulled wine and relax. We’re here to show you how to put lights on a Christmas tree while demonstrating the best ideas to make yours shine the brightest.  

It’s time for the big switch-on. 

The basics of Christmas tree lighting

How many Christmas lights do you need?

Firstly, figure out how many lights you need for your specific tree. As a general rule of thumb, 100 lights for every foot of tree, but it’s always a case of the more the merrier – especially if you want the professional look of a dressed spruce in a department store or boutique hotel. Luckily, we’ve got sets featuring up to 720 LED lights in a single pack, so it’s easy to make yours look abundant.  

Next, plug in your lights to check that all the bulbs are working before you go to all the trouble of putting them on your tree only to find something’s wrong (we’ve got a wide range of Christmas lights if you need new ones). Leave them on while you’re working so you can see how they’re looking and address any dark spots as you weave the string over and under the branches. 

Then, start from the bottom-up closest to the power outlet so you don’t have to run an extension cord to the top – the opposite is true when removing them after Christmas – and always add your lights before your decorations. 

If you want to install your Christmas tree in a space without a power socket, use multiple sets of battery-powered lights, such as these from Sirius

Vertical VS horizontal: which method suits you?

We’d recommend wrapping your lights around your tree horizontally – the most traditional and popular way – by placing lights over and under branches as you work your way around and up. For a professional look, nestle some lights further back into the tree and others closer to the front for depth and interest, alternating so the arrangement looks natural.

But how do you put lights on a Christmas tree vertically? Vertical arrangements started as a trend a few years ago as a modern twist on the traditional method. The technique makes the lights shine brighter because more of them are on show as they’re less likely to be covered up by branches. Starting with the end of the strand without the plug, simply cascade lights from the top to the bottom of the tree in an ‘S’ shape or zig-zag down the front. Certainly, this arrangement is easier to remove once Christmas is over. For best results, choose something with a ‘loose’ string over a structured wire – such as these with weighty sultan-shaped glass lights – as they’ll hang better. 

Safety tips for Christmas tree lights

There’s nothing quite like Christmas lights to get you into the festive spirit, but take the time read our list of precautions to keep you safe, ensuring yours bring you nothing but comfort and joy. 

  • Replace missing or broken bulbs. 
  • Use a ladder if decorating outside your home or hard-to-reach spots. 
  • Choose the right kind of light – outdoor for the garden; and indoor for the home. 
  • Similarly, use an outdoor extension cord for the garden, not an indoor one. 
  • Don’t overload power outlets. 
  • Avoid feeding cords through doors and windows. 
  • Always turn off lights when you’re not home or overnight when you’re asleep.

Integrating your tree into your home décor

It’s not only your tree that can be integrated into your home décor – traditional VS contemporary, for example, or green VS white – but your Christmas lights, too.

Consider the style of your interiors and existing lighting scheme. Does a layered mix of wall lights and table lamps emit a golden glow? If so, choose warm lights with a yellow tinge. Alternatively, does a combination of ceiling lights and floor lamps create a silver wash? Then opt for cool lights with a blue tinge.  

Contemporary Christmas décor concepts

Every year, trends dominate our trees – from disco to underwater and gothic (yes, really) – and Christmas lights are no exception.

This year, it’s all about ‘quiet luxury’ in every aspect of our lives, with a less-is-more approach that whispers rather than shouts. To get the look, why not consider a tree that’s only decorated with lights rather than a cacophony of baubles? Choose a set that’s beautifully simple, such as a festive string of LED lights on a gold wire, and let your lights be the loudest thing in the room.  

Other creative Christmas tree décor ideas

On the opposite end of the spectrum, maximalism is back with a bang, eschewing a minimalistic approach in favour of all things outrageous. In the spirit of excess, dress your tree with more lights than it needs, and consider a combination of different styles for an abundant and eclectic aesthetic: throw together the Millie, Trille and Knirke.  

For something altogether more traditional – a big trend as we seek comfort in nostalgia during tumultuous times – try the Molly cone battery garland with a rustic, country vibe. 

Remember: lights don’t just have to be wound around or draped down Christmas trees. They can fill vases; snake between banisters; wind around windows; or even hang down doors. The more ‘pockets’ of Christmas you can create, the more festive your home will feel, so think big and get creative. 

Once you know how to put lights on a Christmas tree, you’ll save time and stress each and every year, while being able to dress your spruce like a stylist. 

Find more bright ideas by browsing our collection of Christmas lights