How to Put Lights on a Christmas Tree

Chances are you learned how to put lights on a Christmas tree by watching your family. There are many different ways to light a Christmas tree, and every family has its own way, which they think is best. The goal in getting your tree lit is to not only have your tree looking picture perfect, but also to make the process easy, both in getting the lights on, and in getting them off when the holiday is over. There are things you can do to avoid stress and frustration, and make your tree look like it was decorated by a professional.

How Many Lights?
When trying to determine how many lights you will need for your tree, consider the size of your tree and your own personal preferences. The general rule of thumb is that you'll need at least 100 lights for each foot of tree. For example, a 6-foot fresh Christmas tree will need at least 600 lights. If you like your tree to be really sparkly, you'll want to use more. Lights typically come in strings of 35, 50, 100 and 200, which can be connected together. The 100-light strings are most popular. No matter which size you use, be sure to string no more than 300 lights together on a single outlet. More than that, and you risk a fire.

What Kind of Lights?
The most popular lights today are miniature lights, which are available with traditional filaments or LEDs. Plain white is the most popular choice, but you can also find multicolored and single-color sets. Be aware that LED lights are much brighter than bulbs with filaments, and they tend to give off a harsh glare. You won't need as many LED lights to give your tree a bright look.

Other options are C5 and C9 bulbs, which screw into their sockets like regular light bulbs. C9 bulbs are generally used outdoors, or by people who want the traditional look that was popular in the middle of the 20th century. Bubble lights and translucent cool-bright lights come in the smaller C5 size. These lights can be combined with miniature lights to create some interesting effects on your tree.

Getting Started
Before you begin, it's important to test all of your lights to make sure they work. Plug in each strand of lights. If necessary, replace any burned-out bulbs. It is easiest to have the lights plugged in as you put them on the tree, so that you can see what you're doing.

Begin by plugging the first strand of lights into your outlet or power strip. You are now ready to start tucking the lights into the tree, beginning at the bottom side closest to your outlet. It's best to place the lights well inside the branches, rather than keeping them toward the ends. This hides the wires and gives your tree depth. Remember that you'll be putting ornaments on the tips of branches, so you don't need to fill that space with lights.

Rather than trying to wrap the lights around the tree in a spiral, imagine that your tree is divided into three or four wedges. The wide part of the wedge is at the bottom of the tree, pointing up to the top. Tuck the lights into the branches of your tree, going back and forth over the wedge, working upward, until you reach the top.

Attach additional strands of lights as needed. When you get to the top, you can begin working the next wedge from the top down to the bottom. Step back often, to check that the tree is evenly lit, with no dark spots.

If you prefer a heavily lit tree, you can repeat this process with more lights, this time placing the lights closer out to the tips of the branches. Once again, step back often to check your work, making sure that your lights are evenly spaced. When putting extra lights on a fresh tree, it is especially important to make sure the tree is always watered well, as the heat from the extra lights can dry the tree.

Tips for Lighting Your Tree

  • Always put the lights on first, followed by garlands and ornaments.
  • If you're using miniature and larger lights, put the miniature lights on first, then add the larger lights.
  • Follow the branches. Make sure that smaller interior branches get some light, as well as the main branches. This will make the tree look fuller and more natural.
  • Don't wrap lights around a tree like garland. Lights should allow the shape of the tree to show, not hang in space.
  • Look for lights with connectors on both ends. It's much easier to decorate when you can continue directly from the end of the current string of lights.
  • Discard lights that don't work. If a set of lights fails to work, toss it and get a new one. Light sets with damaged wires are a fire and electrocution hazard.
  • Replace burned-out bulbs immediately. Keep a careful eye out for burned-out bulbs during the holidays, and replace dead lamps as quickly as possible. When a light burns out, the remaining lights burn a little hotter, which shortens their life.
  • Use a power strip. A power strip with a fuse is the best choice for Christmas lights, as it will shut itself off if it gets too hot, preventing fires and protecting the wiring in your home.
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