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When I was growing up it was my job to decorate the tree as soon as a step stool would allow me to reach the top. Dad was forever the back-seat decorator, insisting that this ornament and that light needed to be moved just a smidge. While I balked at his insistence, I did learn a lot of good decorating ideas from those years.

First, those of you working with real trees need to get them into water and let them adjust to your home’s temperature and humidity. Do not decorate your tree for at least 3 days. During this time the branches will hang out to where they’ll remain pretty much as long as the tree continues taking water. Now you can really see where you want to put ornaments.

Step one for all trees is the lighting. After testing your lights, begin with at least one strand of lights that go very close to the tree’s trunk, stringing them from the bottom up. This creates an inner glow to the tree that accents everything else you put on it. It doesn’t matter if you use one color or many – we opt for white ones. The next strand(s) of light go a little closer to the surface, again from the bottom up (this positioning also helps with plugging the lights in safely).

Step 2 – garland. Experts tell us that you need about two packages of garland per foot of tree. You don’t want too much garland because it will eat up the room reserved for ornaments. People who have pets can have the satisfaction of knowing that garland is pet-friendly whereas tinsel can harm digestive systems. Unlike lights, you wan to apply your garland from the top down.

Step 3 – yep, the ornaments. I always hunt down my favorites first and put them where they really show off on the tree. After that, put on larger ornaments being careful to evenly disperse them and remember to account for their weight when choosing branch sites. Last, unbreakable ornaments can go near the bottom or places where people and pets are likely to brush against the tree.

Finally – the tree top. To be honest I do this first – it sets my mood and the tone of the tree, but most people leave it for the end and the inevitable first lighting. Now’s the time to grab a cup of eggnog, dim the lights and enjoy!


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