How to String Christmas Tree Lights
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How to String Christmas Tree Lights

If the job of lighting the Christmas tree makes you reach for the aspirin bottle, here's help on how to light your tree efficiently and beautifully -- and with fewer headaches.

Lighting Made Easier

Christmas Tree
Enlarge Image

Start decorating your tree with
lights first and then get glowing!

Creating a magical glow of lights on an artificial tree isn't difficult, but it demands patience; on a fresh tree, it calls for both patience and a trick of the trade.

Plug it in

Christmas tree lights are either stacked or end to end, also called string to string. Check the boxes of lights before you buy to make sure they're all compatible. You can join more strands with stacked plugs than you can with end-to-end type plugs. Be sure to check the box for the manufacturer's recommendations, however. Usually you can string together three 100-light strands or six 50-light strands.

How many lights?

For a fresh tree, plan for three 100-light sets per tree foot.

For an artificial tree, use 50-light strands: the 100-light strands are two 50-light strands wired together, and the 50-light strands are easier to work with as you wrap the tree branches. In addition, the 50-light sets are less likely to burn out or have electrical problems. For subdued lighting, use about 12 boxes for a 6-foot tree and about 20 boxes for an 8-foot tree. For moderate lighting, use 20 boxes for a 6-foot tree and 30 boxes for an 8-foot tree. For showcase lighting, use 40 boxes and 80 boxes, respectively.

Lighting a Fresh Tree

Lights on a fresh tree
Enlarge Image

We used an artificial tree and
lights on a white cord so you
can clearly see how the cords
are in a triangular shape.

Instead of wrapping the lights around the tree in a maypole dance, mentally divide the tree vertically into three triangular sections.

Plug in the first string of lights and nestle the last bulb on the string at the top of the tree next to the trunk. Weave the lights back and forth across the triangle, being careful not to cross the cord over itself. When you reach the end of the first string, plug in the next set and continue weaving the lights back and forth until you reach the bottom, connecting no more than 300 lights end to end. Repeat this procedure for the remaining triangles.

Step back from the tree and look at it with your eyes crossed. Wherever you see dark holes on the tree, rearrange the lights as necessary to fill in. To remove the lights without getting them tangled, simply work in reverse.

Timely tips

  • For safety's sake, never plug more than two extension cords together. Instead, buy them in the lengths you need and make sure they can handle the wattage of the bulbs.
  • Make sure the wattages of all the lights you use are the same; this prevents power surges and prolongs the life of the bulbs.
  • Plug in the lights before you remove them from the box so you can see whether they work before you put them on the tree.
  • Consider using miniature clear (white) lights for your base lighting, then add strands of the new cool-burning large bulbs for color and variety. Or, add sets of novelty lights, such as flicker-flames, flashing lights, bubble lights, or other shapes.

Lighting an Artificial Tree

The artificial trees available today come in sections that open like an umbrella. If you use miniature lights, you can wrap them around the branches and leave them on permanently. Just be sure to light each section separately (that is, don't cross a section or point of assembly with a strand of lights).

For subdued lighting, begin at the bottom of the tree close to the trunk. Allowing some slack or leader cord in the first strand of lights, separate the cord near the first bulb so it forms a loop. Slip the loop over one of the branchlets or greens near the trunk, and wrap the cord a few times around the green to secure it.

Pull the string of lights taut to the tip of the branch, then work back toward the trunk, wrapping the cord over itself and the branch. Separate the cord again when you reach the trunk, and slip the cord over a branchlet to secure it. Carry the cord over to the next branch, wrap it around a green near the trunk, and pull it out to the tip. Wrap the cord over itself and the branch as before. Continue wrapping branches in this manner to the end of the string. Plug in the next set, and keep going to the point where the tree comes apart. Work any extra lights back along the branch rather than crossing the section. When you wrap the top section of the tree, don't wrap the lights around as many branches, so the tree will look evenly lit from top to bottom.

For moderate lighting, follow the same procedure, but wrap the cord around some of the greens along the branch as you work back toward the trunk. For showcase lighting, wrap the cord around every green as you work back along the branch.

Outdoor lights

  • If you floodlight evergreens outdoors, use white, blue, or green lamps; red, yellow, amber, and pink lamps will make the trees look a muddy brown.
  • Don't try to hang strings of lights from the eaves with cuphooks -- in a strong wind, the wires may swing loose. Instead, use plastic gutter clips that hook onto the gutter and hold the wire tightly in place. Look for packages of gutter clips in crafts stores and hardware stores with the tree lights and supplies.
  • Be sure you have outdoor electrical sockets to plug into when you use outdoor lights.
  • Don't worry about hiding the electrical cords -- just keep them organized neatly, and no one will notice them.