The Trick to Hanging Lights on a Christmas Tree, Explained

A beautifully lit Christmas tree is a hallmark of the season that’s sure to spread holiday cheer. We have a couple tricks for placing these festive bulbs on branches—here are our simple tips on how to put Christmas lights on a tree.

By Kat Hodgins | Published Nov 22, 2021 10:11 AM

how to put lights on a christmas tree

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Christmas lights dress up a holiday tree, making it twinkle and glow. It takes some finesse and know-how to get these tree lights evenly distributed without burnt-out bulbs, crowded areas, bald spots, or tangled cords.

It’s simple to put lights on a Christmas tree properly; all you need is a guide (or a little Christmas magic!). Avoid the headache that can come with decorating an indoor or outdoor tree by following our step-by-step instructions that properly explain how to put lights on a Christmas tree.

Types of Christmas Lights

Everyone has a different aesthetic when decorating for the holidays. From elegant to whimsical to over the top, Christmas lights come in different sizes and colors to suit many preferences. The first decision to make is what style you want and whether you need to buy indoor or outdoor lights. Kick off your search by checking out the following three main types of Christmas tree lights.

Mini String Lights

how to put lights on a christmas tree

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Mini string lights are the smallest lights you can get. Generally candle-shaped and only a fraction of an inch in length and diameter, these lights are an elegant addition to a Christmas tree. Retailers may also refer to these as twinkle lights, as mini string lights with a faceted surface are designed to have a sparkle effect.

Our Recommendation: Twinkle Star 200 LED 66FT Fairy string lights – Get it on Amazon for 19.99
These mini string lights are a crowd-pleaser, with 200 colored Christmas lights spaced just under four inches apart, a 66-foot cable, eight light settings, and waterproof design makes these both outdoor and indoor Christmas lights.

Large Bulb Lights

how to put lights on a christmas tree

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Large Christmas lights can make a tree look like it’s taken right out of a holiday movie. These bulbs start at about 1.5-inches long and about an inch in diameter, but can be larger. Often, large bulbs lights are found on outdoor Christmas trees as they can withstand wet or cold weather, but they can also bring a festive glow to an indoor tree.

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Designed with energy-efficient, bright, and durable LED lights, the 17-foot string of lights has 25 dimmable bulbs available in multiple or single colors, and a single plug can support up to 90 sets of these indoor or outdoor Christmas lights.

Novelty Christmas Lights

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Stand out and invite the spirit of the season into your home with novelty Christmas lights. Novelty Christmas tree lights add variety and spice to standard tree lights. Using unique shapes, unexpected colors, and a bit of extra pizzazz, novelty Christmas lights are just as interesting as the ornaments that hang next to them.

Our Recommendation: Hayata 7 Count Color Christmas Bubble Lights – Get on Amazon for $25.9
Celebrate a good, old-fashioned Christmas with these colorful 1940s inspired bubble lights that glitter once they’re warmed up. These lights have seven bulbs per 6.6-foot cord, and a plug that supports 12 strings of these novelty indoor lights.

How to Put Lights On a Christmas Tree Horizontally

No matter which direction you’re hanging lights, you need to prepare the tree first. Real Christmas trees require a day to naturally settle after being placed in their stand. Artificial trees need to be fluffed up before placing Christmas tree lights.

As a general rule of thumb, every foot of tree should have approximately 100 mini lights or 50 larger lights, but this number is flexible based on your brightness preferences, so adjust accordingly.

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STEP 1: Untangle and test your Christmas lights before placing them on the tree.

If you’re not in the habit of coiling and putting your Christmas tree lights away properly every year, step one of putting Christmas lights on a tree is untangling them and keeping them in an easy to unravel coil for decorating.

Always check your Christmas lights before putting them on the tree. Nothing is more disappointing than wrapping your tree in lights to later discover they don’t work. Testing the lights and replacing any burnt out bulbs at the beginning helps your tree look its best. Leave the Christmas lights on while you decorate, so you can better control the spacing between the bulbs. Also, with the lights plugged in, you already know that the cord reaches the power outlet, eliminating the need to re-wrap the tree or use an extension cord.

Related: How To: Store Holiday Lights, Decorations, and Accessories

STEP 2: Place Christmas lights starting from the base of the tree and work your way up.

Starting from the bottom of the tree, weave the lights over and under branches in a gentle S shape. String them upward around the tree, like wrapping a maypole, continuing to weave around branches in that S shape. Don’t rush this part, and periodically step back and look at your tree. Lights always look better if they’re evenly spaced; it’s easier to make adjustments as you place the Christmas lights, rather than after.

STEP 3: Keep adjusting the Christmas lights and add additional strings of lights as you go. 

When placing lights on a Christmas tree, push them into different directions and into branches closer to the center of the tree—this helps create light from within the tree, which draws the eye.

Continue repositioning the lights as you work your way up the tree. As more strings of lights are needed, connect them once you’ve used up the current string of Christmas lights. If you connect all the strings together at the beginning, it becomes cumbersome to wrap them around the tree.

If you have any extra lights once you reach the top, you can start winding them back down the tree or adjust the lower lights to ensure the string of lights ends at the top. After you have put the Christmas lights on the tree, do any final adjustments before adding ornaments and decorations.

How to Put Lights On a Christmas Tree Vertically

Many people put lights on their Christmas tree horizontally because that’s how they learned to do it. Placing Christmas lights on a tree vertically is faster, which makes taking them off easier, too. Vertical wrapping also prevents overuse of lights, as fewer bulbs are needed to create a result similar to placing Christmas lights horizontally.

STEP 1: Check your Christmas lights and decorate one-third of the tree at a time.

When putting Christmas lights on a tree vertically, the first step is very similar to placing the lights horizontally. Plug in your Christmas lights, change out any burnt out or broken bulbs, and prepare the strings of lights in coils that unravel easily.

Keep your lights plugged in as you position them on the tree, as it makes them easier to see and adjust as you go. Mentally divide the tree into three sections (or more, if it’s a larger tree), as you’ll add lights to one section at a time.

Related: Everything but the Tree: Our 12 Favorite Wreaths, Garlands, and Other Christmas Greenery

STEP 2: String the Christmas lights in an upside down V shape.

Starting from the base, string the lights in an upside-down V shape (or triangle) to section off the first area you want to fill with lights. Then it’s a simple matter of zigzagging your lights  (vertically or horizontally) from one end of the section to the other, flooding the tree with light in the way that’s most appealing to you. For more dimension, lights can be pushed into deeper branches. Once the section is filled in with Christmas lights, it’s easy to make adjustments to evenly space them out. Avoid tangles by adding more strings of lights as you go.

how to put lights on a christmas tree

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STEP 3: Add lights to the remaining sections and make any final adjustments.

Repeat step 2 to add lights to the remaining sections of the Christmas tree. Start with the upside down V, fill the branches with lights, and adjust the spacing. When starting on a new section, make sure the upside down V blends in seamlessly with the previous section, ensuring there aren’t any areas lacking in Christmas lights.

This technique leaves more wires at the top of the tree, which can be hidden with a nice tree topper. Ornaments and decorations will also hide a lot of the wire, so don’t get too caught up trying to hide it.

Remove the holiday headache of putting Christmas lights on your tree with this guide. If hiding the cords is important to you, choose string lights with a green cord to blend into the tree branches. While 100 mini lights or 50 larger lights per foot of tree is the unofficial standard, add as many lights as you like, providing it’s supported by the plug (this will be outlined on the manufacturer’s instructions). Whether you need to learn how to put lights on an indoor or outdoor Christmas tree, these steps are sure to give you a well-lit tree this year.

Related: The Best Artificial Christmas Trees of 2021