The 3 Very Best Ways to String Lights on a Christmas Tree

From a light-stringing expert, mind you.

November 13, 2021

I firmly believe the holidays shouldn’t be stressful—after all, aren’t they supposed to be the happiest time of the year? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and I know I’m not alone in feeling stress bubble to the surface once the calendar flips to December.

Here’s the thing, though—those typical holiday touchpoints (hosting, gifting, a busy social calendar) aren’t actually what works me up. Entertaining a crowd doesn’t stress me out—a true Enneagram Two, acts of service are my love language and I enjoy going all-out when hosting friends and family. The same goes for gifting; I try my best to be a thoughtful gift-giver and keep a running note on my iPhone throughout the year with ideas I can rely on come holiday season. So what really has me feeling that holiday stress? Stringing my Christmas tree with lights—not to mention the dread of having to wrestle them off a dry, dead tree at the end of the season.

It wasn’t until I was faced with a holiday photoshoot a few years back—staring down the barrel of three huge trees I had to light and make magazine-worthy—that I knew I had to master the elusive skill once and for all. As it turns out, like most things, there’s not just one “right” way to light your Christmas tree. After much trial and error, I mastered a few foolproof methods for stringing a Christmas tree (though organizing said strands of lights is a whole other ordeal—hit me up with your favorite strategies, please!).

Below are three tried-and-true methods I’ve learned over the years, and ones I keep returning to time and time again (and find myself teaching friends and family). One quick note: Before attempting any of these methods, make sure you plug in and test all your lights to make sure they work—there’s nothing worse than stringing your tree only to find out you have a faulty strand. Beyond that, I promise you this: After mastering one of these, you’ll never again turn into a Grinch over a bit of greenery.

Method 1: The Zig-Zag

Designed to be the easiest to remove, the zig-zag method is the one I’ve relied on the most over the years. Instead of wrapping your lights around the entirety of your tree in a circular motion, you’ll be doing an about-face at each level of the tree so you never complete a full circle around your fir.

  1. Beginning at the top of your tree, with the end of your strand(s) at the center peak, weave the lights through the branches to the right, making sure to bury them at different depths for a dynamic look.
  2. String the lights three-fourths of the way around the tree, then double-back, creating a U-shape with your strand and continuing back the way you came.
  3. Repeat the same process towards the left side of your tree, forming the U-shape and doubling back towards the front when you get to the backside of the tree again.
  4. Continue zigging and zagging on your tree until you reach the base, leaving enough strand free to easily plug it in.

Note that you won’t be stringing the back of your tree in the most basic sense (though it will still have lights on it), so this method is particularly great if you’re a household that caddy-corners their spruce and doesn’t see one side of it. Using this method, removal will be easy as pie, requiring no aerial gymnastics to untwine the strand from the branches.

Method 2: The Roundabout

If you’re a stickler for tradition, stringing lights around your tree maypole-style is still a totally viable method of illumination, and a great strategy if your tree is placed somewhere where it will definitely be viewed on all sides. The key to a well-dressed tree using this technique is making sure to vary the “lines” of the light strands so they’re not running down your tree in a distinct spiral.

  1. Beginning at the top of your tree, with the end of your strand(s) at the center peak, wrap your lights around the circumference of the tree, making sure to stagger both the depth and line slightly.
  2. Follow your tree down in a complete spiral, then step back to assess for any holes or dark spots—they’re easy to develop with this method.
  3. If any of your strands aren’t laying exactly where you’d like them, you can use a bit of floral wire (or leftover ornament hooks) to attach them to nearby branches.

Method 3: The Wave

If your goal is a spruce that rivals the Rockefeller Center tree, then this is the lighting method for you. Beloved by pros for its light density, this is definitely a method you’ll want to pick up extra strands for, but I promise it’s worthwhile.

  1. Start by plugging in your strands and begin at the base of your tree in an area close to the plug.
  2. String the tree vertically from the base to the top in a straight (ish) line, burying your lights at different depths—it’s a good idea to hold excess strand in one hand while stringing with another so your lights don’t get tangled with each other or caught in the tree.
  3. When you reach the top of the tree, create a U-shape with the strand of lights and begin weaving them back down the tree, closely neighboring the string of lights you just ran up the spruce.
  4. Continue this up and down “wave” pattern around the entirety of the tree until you meet back around where you started.

How do you string lights on your tree? Is there a better method we've missed? Tell us in the comments below!

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1 Comment

Camryn R. November 22, 2021
I had this conversation with several friends recently, and they're solidly Team Roundabout. Personally, I always zig zag! It's soo much easier, and no one can tell me otherwise.