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7 Christmas Tree Lighting Tips that Will Make the Job Easier

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Christmas tree lighting tips that will make your tree, whether a real or an artificial Christmas tree, look festive and will glow from within.

When it comes to holiday decorating, I have put the lights on more Christmas trees, both real and artificial then the average person will in a lifetime.

My job in retail display had me putting the lights on and off (we cut them off the display trees every holiday season so we could put fresh ones on) of hundreds and hundreds of trees and garland, too. When I say hundreds – I literally mean hundreds.

Lynch Creek Farm Centerpiece

I know my way around a strand of mini string lights and wanted to share my Christmas tree lighting tips to make the process of putting lights on a tree fast and easy, and that will give you glowing results.

What is the Right Way to Put Lights on a Christmas Tree?

There are many Christmas tree lighting techniques to correctly put lights on a Christmas tree. Here are 3 ways:

1. Branch Wrapping

This is the best way to add lights to a Christmas tree where you string the lights from branch to branch.

This is done by going up and down each branch on the tree starting at the base of the branch and wrapping the lights around the branch as you work to the outer tip of the branch and then back down along the branch.

Once you are back at the base, you move onto the next branch. This requires quite a few strands of lights depending on the size of the tree.

2. Going Round and Round Horizontally

This is the fastest way to add lights to a Christmas tree. It works very well when you have a very full tree.

To do this, start at the top or bottom fo the tree. As you go around the tree with a light strand, simply push the strand into the center of the tree along the branches and then back out again.

Going round and round the tree horizontally repeating the process. When you get to the end of a strand, plug in another strand and continue adding lights in this manner.

3. Add the Lights Vertically

String the light strands vertically up and down the tree.

To do this you start each string of lights at the top of the tree and simply let it hang down. Tuck the ends into the branches to hide the end of each strand.

When doing this you need to connect all the lights around the top and will need to add a plug near the top of the tree.

old family photo from Christmas
Christmas Tree Lighting Tips

I watched my dad use the branch wrapping method when I was a child. He was really good at it. It can be time consuming as it took him all day, but every wire was hidden.

The going round-and-round horizontal method or vertical stringing method can leave too many empty spaces and the lights sometimes look too lined up.

The Easy Way to Put Lights on a Christmas Tree

To put Christmas tree lights on my tree, I learned early in my display career from my seasoned display decorators I worked with that we did not have time to wrap every branch.

Instead, we used methods that were fast, easy, and where the lights were always evenly spaced with little wire showing.

1. A 9-Outlet Christmas Tree Cube

Before putting lights on the tree, use a handy-dandy  9-Outlet Christmas Tree Cube Tap Extension Cord . It is the best tree lighting invention ever!

green 9-outlet Christmas tree cube tap extension cord

If you are not familiar with this type of extension cord, once you use it – you will never ever put lights on a Christmas tree without it.

When you use a regular extension cord with one outlet tap – all the plugs from all the lights have to reach this plug or outlet bar. The top light strands have to weave down the tree to the bottom to be plugged in where the outlet(s) are.

It can get quite messy and may leave more lights than are necessary along the path to the outlet.

This scenario does not happen when you use the 9-outlet Christmas Tree Cube – this extension cord gets strung up along the trunk of the tree and evenly places 3 cube taps (for 9 plugs) one at the bottom, middle, and top of the tree. 

The light strands on the top of the tree get plugged into the top tap outlet, the middle lights – the middle tab, and the lights around the bottom, go into the bottom tab outlet.

No more having to send all the plugs to only one outlet or area. It also makes it easy to follow the safety rule, not to plug more than 3 sets of lights together.

Once you have three light sets strung together.  You have another outlet in close proximity to start another 3 strands.

The extension cord also has a rocker switch that makes turning the lights on and off all at once very easy.

2. Testing the Lights Before You Wrap Them

Test each light strand to make sure it is working properly before stringing on the tree. There is nothing worse than having to find the bad strand once the lights are on the tree. 

Plug each strand into an outlet and leave it plugged in for about 5 minutes. Next, gently shake it around to make sure all the bulbs are secure. If it stays lit – it is good to put on the tree.

If half the set is lit and the other is not – you could try replacing the first bulb after the outage or a fuse, but this may not fix the strand. Don’t toss these, they can be used to light the bushes around the exterior of your house for Christmas.

You string the lit section on and shove the unlit section into the bush.

3. Lighting the Christmas Tree Trunk First

To make a Christmas tree look like it is lit from within, string clear mini lights around the trunk and in the center of the tree.

Even if you are using multicolor Christmas lights, use clear white on the trunk. Then put the colored lights on the rest of the tree.

Christmas tree with lights wrapped around trunk

At night, the tree will have a beautiful warm glow.  You can mix color strands with clear lights for a festive glow.

4. Add the Lights from Top to Bottom

The best way to string lights on a Christmas tree is to start at the top and work your way down. The reason I do this is that the top is usually sparse and it is hard to hide the wires.

I can use whatever amount of lights that is needed to get this area just right. Once I think it looks OK, I proceed down the tree.

How to Keep the Christmas Tree Light Strands from Getting Tangled As You Work?

To keep the strands from tangling as you add them to the tree, wrap them around your shoulders like a shawl.

This allows you to pull the strand freely when you need more to string and keeps it from tangling.

example of wrapping Christmas tree lights from the top

Weave the strings of lights in vertical waves in 12” heights while moving around the tree horizontally, then choose the most prominent branches to wrap the lights around to make sure the strand is secure. You do not need to wrap every branch.

One thing to consider is when using a variety of brand new lights or have strands from different manufacturers – the colors and brightness of the bulbs may look different – if this is the case, make sure to place similar strands evenly around the tree. If not, one part of your tree may look different, either in color or intensity.

How to Put Lights Evenly on a Christmas Tree?

finished Christmas tree lit with colorful lights

To make sure you are spacing the lights evenly on the Christmas tree – do the “squint test” to bring the lights into focus as you look at the tree. It creates a bokeh effect when you squint.

bokeh effect from squinting at Christmas tree lights


How to do the Squint Test – Simply stand a few feet away from the tree and squint your eyes as you look at the tree. This helps you see where there is an empty spot that needs filling.

There is usually no need to add a new string of lights, but just move a section of a strand already on the tree to space the lights out more.

5. Twinkle Lights

Mini twinkle lights look the best on a Christmas tree. Adding these incandescent twinkle lights – not LED or blinking lights, but bulbs that slowly twinkle one light at a time, not the entire strand going on and off at once adds to the glow of the tree.

I even add a few strands of twinkle lights to a pre-lit artificial tree. They make the a pre-lit tree look magical.

You can buy twinkle lights here:

6. How Do You Figure Out How Many Lights You Need for a Christmas Tree?

Buy more lights than you think you will need. 100 light strand lengths are the best to use for most sized trees.

  • As a rule of thumb – figure you will need 100 – 200 lights for every foot of tree. I always add more than this though as I like to see a lot of classic white twinkling lights on the tree.
  • It is much easier to simply throw out old strands that don’t light. It is too time consuming to figure out the cause of the unlit bulbs. Even if you do find the cause, it is a weak point and is likely to just go out again. Toss and use a new strand.  

7. Storing Christmas Lights

To easily store lights so they won’t get tangled – wrap the strand around a piece of cardboard or a cardboard tube saved from a roll of paper towels. Plug each strand to itself and then store in a large box.

  • When wrapping around the cardboard, start with the male plug so that when you unwrap next year, you’ll have the plug end of the strand ready to start adding to the tree unwrapping as add the strand to the tree. Doing this also helps with keeping the strand from tangling as add the lights to the tree.

More Christmas Decorating Tips

If you are looking for more creative Christmas decorating ideas to make your holidays merry? Check out these Christmas tree decorating posts.

You May Also Like:

How to put strings of lights on a Christmas tree the easy way. Photo of a Christmas tree with weave pattern on it to show stinging technique.

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46 Comments

  1. L0ve you hints, going to try them. Loved the picture of your Dad from your last post. My Dad passed away this spring and we are going to try to make ornaments from a sweater he loved, thanks for the idea.

  2. great post diane. I put my tree up yesterday and tried a new way I saw on pinterest… I guess it’s the branch wrapping method. I got “up” the tree and ran out of lights. ugh! I took them all off and did the lasso sort of while weaving in and out.
    I just did the “squint” test to my tree and I clearly see one spot that needs attention. who knew!
    As for the extension cord, my pre-lit tree has that and I LOVE it. I didn’t know you could actually buy them. good to know!

    gail

  3. Thank you for the tips! I’ve always wondered how to get my tree to look like this. I’m going to PIN for next year, we just decorated this years tree on Saturday. I used some multi colored large retro looking lights plus some Shiny Bright ornaments and some hand made from the kids:)

  4. My husband always did an amazing job of stringing the lights, but when I had to take over, it became an awful chore, and it never looked the way his did—even though I spent hours and hours. The first pre-lit tree I bought was a nightmare. The next was much better once I figured it out. But you may have made me brave enough to do my own next year! Maybe I’ll even add a few strings this year since the docorations haven’t been added yet. You are the best. Thank you!