How to Decorate a Christmas Tree from Scratch

Ho, Ho, So- if you do just one bit of decor, I promise a tree will give you the best impact.

Without a foundation of holiday decor, a tree can be all you need and will be your centerpiece for the holiday season.

For you live tree aficionados, the hunt for a cut-your-own tree, makes for a festive annual family outing. There is plenty of excitement heading to the firehouse lot for a pre-cut tree, too.

And yet, there are amazing faux trees, many of which have realistic needles and some are even  purposely made with quirky branches. Most are pre lit these days- which is all good. However, if you are happy with old fashioned big lights, there are still unlit trees that allow you to choose the lights you like, colored or white, led or fat C-9’s

My order of decor:

1. Tree in base or tree stand, which is a hardware store or amazon item.   If you love a massive tree, be sure to wire that guy to a wall! It might seem like an unnecessary step but it's worth it to avoid a fallen tree and the heartache that could result if those fragile, sentimental ornaments shatter.

The charm of smaller tree means the tree can be set into a bucket with gravel to hold it. Once in the bucket, it can be placed in an antique crock, and old wicker hamper, a metal gathering basket, or into a plant stand or onto a table.  These days, it is in vogue to use a galvanized bucket for an industrial look. I’ve used an antique crock for our own wonky “charlie brown” tree, and raised the level of the tree with bricks in the bottom.

And if a tree is not in your space or budget, find or cut twiggy branch(es), spray them white or gold and place them in container with pebbles or gravel and decorate.

So, once you’ve got the tree in place, here is what to do next…

2. Tree topper-if it lights up, start with this, so you can plug in and feed the cord down the center of the tree.

3. Lights- find them in the drugstore, or hardware store or amazon. These copper wire LED lights are amazing, I use them everywhere. My TIP: spend the money for a foot switch cord that you can step on, on-off. You’ll thank me.

4. Garland - so many options for garland! popcorn, paper chains, strings of beads, pearls, paper circle garland, pompoms on a string, foil garland.

5. Ornaments- Maybe you have a collection of family ornaments but if not, see handcrafted ideas below.  

6. Add tinsel if you like that vintage look.

7. Tree topper- if not a traditional angel or star, why not consider, a bow, wood initial letters spray painted, a birdhouse, or even a Santa hat. Recycle those cardboard shirt boxes and use them to make cut-out stars or snowflakes, then brighten with glue & glitter.

8. Finish with a tree skirt. I am loving the tartan plaid wave! This can be purchased, but can easily & more uniquely be a piece of burlap, plaid fabric, a throw blanket, a even a scarf.

9. Candy canes-Just for fun, add candy canes for the visitors, young and old alike.

Oh those delightful homemade ornaments-make and create your own:

Garland: remember making paper chains? These can be made as a family project, and/or try to make them a bit more delicate with origami paper or wrapping paper, ribbon or old christmas cards.  This paper cutter makes it go so much faster. And you will use it again and again- all year long.

Popcorn garland- if you want to give this a go, pop that popcorn early. Then put it in a big cardboard box- let it go for a few days, as it is much easier to make when it is stale and spongy. Just use a heavy needle and fishing line or embroidery thread. After the holidays, hang the garland outdoors for the birds.

Paper punch garland- punch XL dots from metallic paper to sew lengths of garland, or glue a long series of two opposing dots with fishing line running between.

Glitter & Glue - I love Martha Stewart glitter- hers is the best selection and quality. This is available from Michael’s. (Don’t forget your coupon when shopping there.)

When you are outside on a walk or hike look for nature’s offerings: collect sweetgum balls, acorns, pinecones, & leaves, shells & palm fronds. These are a perfect base for glue and glitter. Don’t forget, even inexpensive styrofoam balls look amazing when glittered!

Spray paint- this is your new holiday friend- I’ve found that the hardware stores have the best price on paints. Spray collected bits of nature- pinecones of all sizes, acorns, leaves, dried hydrangeas, seed heads and osage orange fruits . Add a small screw eye to the pinecones, a loop of thread to the painted leaves for an (almost) instant tree ornament.  

Woven danish paper hearts:  Another family craft- and these can be made or recreated in red and white paper come Valentine’s Day.

Pipecleaners- simple, fun. thank you, Martha

Fa la la la FELT- don’t forget about the potential of sensible crafting with inexpensive crafts supplies like felt. This craft store staple makes easy, durable  ornaments. 

And those ‘found” items in your house, your mementoes from the year can be saved and hung on the tree. Consider hand-lettered place cards from a wedding, favorite show or sporting event tix, just hole punch and tie a ribbon to hang on the tree. Old ribbon awards will work and will recall those winning memories. Even small state flags that honor places visited make unexpected ornaments. You might even try lost socks, a single baby mitten!

Take Grandmas’ oversized brooch and tie a fine piece of satin to loop it on a tree branch.

Use old christmas cards or the grade school photo of the kids to make keepsake ornaments.

Salt dough ornaments:  Simple ingredients from your kitchen turn flour, salt and water into adorable ornaments. Use a cookie cutter or make them into any shape you want, then bake, cool and glitter or paint them. Stored in plastic containers, you can reuse them next year. These make a lovely gift for friends.

In our family, our Christmas tree is dressed in both homemade decorations, and beloved collectibles. I love the way it looks, knowing it is the only one of its kind. And year to year, the placement and collections evolve and change.  As a mother I found that the best way to occupy little hands and minds in the weeks leading up to Christmas was with a project. There were the usual items, such as kindergarten pictures glued to glitter-covered cardboard, buttons glued to styrofoam balls, construction-paper stars and my favorite, salt dough ornaments. I’ve watched a dear friend follow Martha’s how-to for years. The results are excellent.

Around the house:

Paper snowflakes- As only Martha can teach.

Don’t forget to search thru the year at yard sales for holiday trinkets and glass vases that can be inexpensive candle hurricanes.  

Fill a large bowl, cake plate or large glass hurricane with shiny brite christmas balls. - this is amazing, it’s a science experiment for the kids, & eeezy peezy decor for mom.

Use Snowonder to  fill jars with snow, put candle in- add outdoor berries. Find inexpensive candles from Ikea, berries, pinecones- free.

Favorite candles: best value, favorite unscented set.

Those empty wine bottles? Fill with fairy lights, decorate in window, counter or guestroom.

Those gilded bits of nature created with spray paint? Fill bowls or glass hurricanes with the collection. Use flea market silver revere bowls filled with your painted and glittered finds, vintage sparkly trinkets or this years holiday cards.

Fruitful hurricane- put candle in center then fill around with lemons or limes.

Gather red berries, holly or magnolia stems and put a pillar candle in the center.

Pretty up your outdoor pots-  cut back dead plants, add greens, pinecones, even oversized plastic ornaments.

And the fa-la-la-la is all yours to enjoy. Click HERE to see more Christmas tree inspiration!