Christmas Tree Decorating Tips

Spruce up your holiday tree with these ideas from lifestyle expert James Farmer.
Marine Corps Decorated Christmas Tree in Foyer

Marine Corps Decorated Christmas Tree in Foyer

A collection of ornaments given as gifts and bought during vacations fill a Christmas tree with stories you can share all season long. 

From: White House Christmas 2014

Photo by: Joshua Roberts

Joshua Roberts

Trimming the tree isn't as easy as it looks. Even the most experienced decorators have wound up with plenty of fir in their face. "All too often our family tree has toppled over," says lifestyle expert James Farmer. "And many times it's toppled onto me!"

A Georgia native, Farmer has childhood memories of cutting Christmas trees from his family's land—an experience that taught him the importance of dressing a tree with care, respect and style. "Some get overwhelmed by decorating for Christmas, but you don't have to decorate every corner of your house," he says. "Having a beautifully decorated tree is one way to fill the whole house with holiday cheer." 

Dream Up A Theme 

Themed trees make a fun seasonal statement. "One of my favorites is a garden-themed tree with dried flowers, pinecones, dried oranges and raffia," he says.

Real vs. Artificial 

Farmer says real trees are the only way to go. "There's nothing better than the smell and it's a great way to support local tree farmers," he says.

Fir-st Place 

Farmer says some of the best trees for decorating are Fraser, Noble and Douglas firs. "But here in south Georgia, I love using cedars," he says.

Light Ideas 

White lights or multicolored? "It depends on the tree and its location," Farmer says. "For a family room or a room that's more casual, I like colored lights. Small and large bulbs are a nice mix. In a more formal room, white lights are totally apropos.

Top This! 

Angels and stars are traditional tree toppers, but Farmer has also used "bunches of dried hydrangeas, branches of curly willow, stems of red berries or even feathers with a little bit of ribbon to tie it all together," he says.


  • Remember that a Christmas tree is beautiful on its own, so select a pretty tree to use.
  • Light from within. Be sure to tuck and nestle lights from within the tree. You want to see the effect of the lights, not the lights themselves.
  • Forget about being matchy-matchy. Ornaments collected over the years speak volumes over a theme.


  • Overthink it.
  • Use over-scaled ornaments. Remember that the tree and branches have to support what you're putting on them.
  • Let your tree dry out. Make sure there is plenty of water in the stand before you decorate.

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