Preparations for Christmas are not necessarily that much fun.
Once you've chosen your tree, whether real or fake, it's time to make it look gorgeous, so grab a mince pie, a glass of champagne or mulled wine and get the whole family involved for some seriously cosy pre-Christmas action.
But if you feel like your spruce is never quite up to scratch, or you just want some inspiration on how to decorate your tree this year, then read on for tips and tricks from the experts.
Pick a good location
Whether your tree is real or artificial, you need to consider where to place it, especially if space is at a premium in your home. Ideally it will be near a plug socket, avoiding the need for wires across the living room floor, and you can rearrange furniture if necessary to avoid clumsy kids and wagging tails from getting in the way of your festive creation.
Your tree might be pushing up against the back of a wall so feel free to trim some branches off with clippers. Harry Brightwell, secretary of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) suggests that these may make a nice Christmas swag. (Tie an old coat hanger to the branch with some ribbon and then hang it on a wall or door).
Don’t put the tree near a radiator, fireplace or draught. And don’t put it in a place where people are going to trip over it.
“Visually, and for the fragrance, you want the tree where you spend the most amount of time, and where you get the most impact when you walk into the building,” says Helene Webb of Cardinal Christmas Decorating, a bespoke luxury Christmas decorating service, who also recommends placing the tree against a mirror so you get double the amount of sparkle shining back at you once you’ve dressed it up.
Having picked the best place for your tree, measure the width, depth and ceiling height and don't forget to factor in the height of your tree stand and topper. Give your tree enough room so its branches hang freely and you can decorate all around.
Tip: If you've got a real tree that's too tall, always trim it from the bottom so it maintains its triangular shape.
Fluff those branches. Yes, that's official advice from Christmas experts at John Lewis & Partners who say artificial trees especially need serious "fluffing". (You'd probably need "fluffing" too if you'd been squashed in a cardboard box in the loft for 12 months.)
John Lewis Assistant Buyer Christmas, Scott Bartle advises: "Spend 45 minutes putting your tree together and fluffing the branches to give it that full and authentic look. It's all in the preparation. If you've fluffed your tree and the lights are even, you can't go wrong." Simple.
Get the lighting right
Professional Christmas decorators, Cardinal Christmas Decorating, start off with the lights – and so should you. Wire the lights onto the tree so they are secure. Make sure that they are well distributed and there are no glaring gaps. “They should go down, into and along the branch of the tree, to the spine so you get lots of depth,” says Webb. “If you’ve got a really bushy tree, it will just look like a big block of green if you don’t. You want loads of depth and light and then you can put the decorations into the tree and they will be brightened up and won’t disappear.”
Bartle agrees and suggests spending a good half an hour getting your Christmas lights positioned just right. Start from the top and work your way down, weaving them around every major branch and leaving about six inches between the loops.
And apparently you can never have too many. "We recommend at least 170 lights per metre of tree," he says. "That's the absolute minimum. Personally I'd put 1,000 lights on a 6ft tree. The more the better."
If you need new lights, it might be worth investing in copper wire lights - they're much less likely to break, give a cleaner, crisper and brighter light - plus you'll barely notice the wire on the tree.
Tip: Save yourself from frustration and make sure the lights are working before you put them on. See below for tips on how to fix broken lights.
Read our handy guide on the best Christmas lights for 2019.
Choose a colour scheme
Choosing colours that go well together is a key part of your tree-building skill. If in doubt, stick to a simple scheme.
Reds, greens and golds are traditional. Yellow and white lights can give a more blue hue. For a winter look, pick silver, blues and purples or for a more minimalist tree look to white, silver and old fashioned wooden decorations.
"The new Christmas colours include dusky pink as seen on the fashion catwalks, and layered shades of green to bring the outdoors in," says Cooper. "At the other end of the spectrum an 80’s and 90’s nightclub-inspired trend includes hot pink, royal blue and neon orange. Blush pink tree decorations have been a bestseller so far this season, from plain baubles to more decadent designs."
Tip: Variety is key - don't go too matchy, matchy with your theme and decorations throughout your tree and your home.
Get the family involved
Like the Christmas tree hunt, it’s good to get the whole family involved and just have fun. Maybe even set up a smaller tree that the kids can decorate themselves.
“It’s so important to have all the kids' decorations from school, the home-made things, what you inherited from your mother,” says Webb. “It’s a super important part of Christmas – there is a nostalgia to it. For a lot of our clients, we’ll do the perfect tree for the drawing room, and then we’ll bring a fresh tree, do all the hard work, put all the lights up, and then they get their little box of family decorations and put them on the tree.”
Now here's the fun bit. When hanging baubles, start from the inside of your tree and work out. Start with plain-coloured baubles as a base, (a cheaper, multi-pack is ideal) adding in more decorative, expensive baubles later.
Hang the larger baubles closer to the centre of the tree to give it more depth, and use smaller ones towards the ends of the branches. Spread them evenly and use a variety of shapes and sizes.
If you find a bauble that you like, Bartle suggests buying them in multiples of three because it will give your tree balance. Never throw out old decorations either, as they might fit your colour scheme in a few years - plus they serve as lovely memories. Having said that, don't adorn your tree with every decoration you can find - be selective.
Tip: Move expensive, glass baubles to the top - you know what will happen to them otherwise.
Read our guide on the best Christmas tree decorations to buy for 2019.
The tree skirt
Don't embarrass your tree and leave it without a skirt. Unless you want everyone to see your extension lead and the ugly plastic tree holder, you'll definitely need one. Tree skirts also catch pine needles if you've got a real tree.
"Who wants to see the workings of their artificial tree?" says Bartle. "It takes away the realness of it. Tree skirts hide wires and it makes it look much cleaner and tidier." Noted.
Now for the crowning touch of your festive masterpiece; an eye-catching Christmas tree topper.
Traditional topper options have their roots in religion - the star representing the Star of Bethlehem which guided the Three Kings to baby Jesus, while the angel symbolises the angels who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.
If you're not keen on either of these, there are lots of other options on the market to suit all tastes, including personalised toppers, snowflakes and birds. Not to mention the llamas and felt dogs available this year.
Tip: Beware of toppers that are heavy. They have to sit on the flimsiest part of your tree for several weeks so make sure your topper isn't in danger of toppling.
How to decorate a white Christmas tree
Feeling a bit modern? Then ditch the classic green of a fir tree and embrace wintry white. There are plenty of white artificial Christmas trees out there and they can look rather stylish in a contemporary space.
Not sure how to decorate a white tree? Then keep these tips in mind.
- Use white tulle or polyester stuffing to fill bare spaces and to hide the trunk and any wires.
- Keep things ultra minimal with just a set of twinkly white lights.
- If you're struggling to know what colours to use for your baubles and ornaments then the good news is, most palettes will work well. Try metallics in gold and champagne, do rainbow bright (see below) or traditional greens and reds will also look festive.
- Alternatively stick to just one colour of bauble to really play up the contrast with the white.
- Pick a tree skirt that helps to blend the stark shade of the tree with the flooring it stands on.
Four Christmas tree trends to watch out for
If want to take the risk and dress your tree to really impress, here are four ideas that could work marvellously:
1. Decorating with lights
"It's no longer enough to have only white lights on your tree - more is more this Christmas," says John Lewis Partner and Christmas Buyer, Dan Cooper. "Our pre-lit fake trees are extremely popular and not only give dramatic effort with minimal effort you also don't have to spend time untangling meters of lights!
"In particular gold has been an especially popular bulb colour and wire finish this year as customers opt for a more informal Christmas tree this year."
2. Faux trees
They're a lifelong investment, and they won't molt all over your living room floor. It's hardly surprising that faux trees are making a comeback for 2019. "Ultra-realistic but fake, our faux Christmas trees have been a big hit with customers and are hard to tell apart from the real thing," says Cooper.
"In particular our Brunswick and Cotswold trees have been best sellers. Fake trees can be bought in advance and stored easily until they're ready to decorate and can be stored away ready for next year."
3. The parasol tree
If you are a cat-owner or parent of a young child, you will know that a traditional Christmas tree can be unravelled at a moment's notice - with all of your hard work ending up in a pile on the floor. With the parasol tree, however, the decorations and tinsel are out of your child or pet's reach.
The trend started to kick off last year when Argos stocked a range of options, and the retailer says their orders for the 6ft Half Parasol Tree are up 5000% since last year.
4. Unusual decorations
This year, John Lewis & Partner are stocking a quirky line of tree decorations, including chameleons, cassette tapes, campfires, caravans, showgirls and sloths. They report that sales of individual baubles have been rivalling their multi-packs as "customers want to make their tree individual and unique to them".
5. The pencil tree
Ideal for homes where space is invaluable, the pencil tree is unique for its tall and thin design. Argos have said that this is one of their top-rated and best-selling trees this year. "We’ve seen a surge in demand for our more unusual trees as customers opt for impactful colours or innovative designs," says Lisa Hollidge, head of Category for Outdoor, Seasonal Events and Paper shop at Argos. "For those short on space, our bestselling pencil tree is designed with compact living in mind and will squeeze snugly into cosy corners.” The design is currently on sale at Argos, Very and independent retailers.
How to fix Christmas lights
If you’re purchasing new lights this Christmas, make sure they are LED, and not the more traditional, filament types. Also see if you can buy replacement bulbs at the time - although most will have them already in the box.
Electrical Safety First recommend the following when it comes to your Christmas lights:
- Ensure plugs or transformers are plugged indoors, even if the lights are suitable for outdoor use.
- If there is frayed wire then just don’t use them. Time to buy a new set.
- Look for the correct markings on the package – a water drop symbol and an IP code with a rating higher than 3.
- Don’t rely on extension leads for lighting, as a socket can only cope with so many appliances plugged in.
- Don’t attempt to repair faulty lights. Replace them.
Without messing around with dangerous electrical circuits, try changing the fuse on your lights’ plug if there's a problem, or invest in an LED light keeper which helps highlight any bulbs that aren’t working so you can replace them
You really don’t want a charred Christmas (Christmas dinner chef: take note) so make sure health and safety is top of your list this Christmas. “People are getting their lights out earlier and earlier,” says say Sophia Alipour, Media Relations Executive at Electrical Safety First, “so if you’re having them up for at least a month, then it’s worth having something that is safe.”