The Well Lit Christmas Tree
by Julie Ann Bennet
Lighting is a critical part of decorating your tree. To get a designer effect you need to add many more lights than average. You will get a big result for the dollars you invest. I recall a time when I tossed 2-3 light strings loosely around the tree and thought I was doing pretty good …..well after seeing the difference of professional lighting, I’ll never go back.
Here’s how to create the great look you see in commercial sights and magazines:
- You will need 1 string of 100 lights per foot of tree, i.e.: a 6′ tree needs 6 strings of 100 lights-600 lights all together! This is a fairly reasonable investment at $3-5 per strand (watch for periodic sales throughout Christmas-at any given time someone usually has them on special.). With proper care and storage they can be used for 3-4 years. The above photo shows the dramatic results….this is a 20′ fresh Noble with over 2,000 lights for a striking effect!
- If your tree is over 5′ tall it is a good idea to get a tree cord. These handy items are now sold at most drug and discount retailers. They are green and have sets of plug ins along the cord. Why do you need so many plugs when mini lights draw so little power? Don’t miss reading this next part…..(it will save endless frustration) You can never, never ( I mean it!) plug in more than 3 strings of 100 lights together. While they do not draw that much power there are tiny fuses in the plug of each string that will immediately burn out if any more power than that goes through them. You will have lights that burn with very little maintenance if you follow this rule. Your lights will also work better if you start of by buying them bundled in small boxes rather than on plastic racks. When removed from the rack, lights often get wires broken or bulbs pulled just loose enough that half the string will not work. If this is all that is available plug them in while you are removing them from the rack so that as soon as there is a problem you will find it.
- Now that you have your materials here are some tips for getting the job done. This is going to take some time so put on some nice holidays music, get a cup of hot cider or cocoa and some comfy clothes. Long sleeves are a good choice to keep from getting poked by the tree as much….and if your tree is flocked-don’t wear a sweater….trust me.
- I feel it is simplest to start at the tip and work your way down . Keep in mind that you always want to end with the pronged plug going down the tree toward your power source. Plug all your power together and make sure your lights are burning while you are putting them on. This assures an even coverage and also will alert you the moment that a bulb is knocked loose…half or all of the string will usually go out. Some strings will go half out during the process, if they do not respond right away or go out again after being fixed, it is usually best to remove them and return them to the store for a replacement….you might be able to make them work for the moment but, undoubtedly, they will give you trouble along the way and aren’t the holidays already stressful enough?
- To begin drop the plug down into the top of the tree so it will be hidden and then begin to wrap the branches in a spread out manor. To tightly wrap them you will need even more lights. If you are wrapping an artificial tree you need to wrap each branch or it will look patchy. While your at it, you might as well light it in sections so that after the season is over you can put each section in a plastic bag and you won’t be relighting the same tree each year. They should be good for 3-4 years. After that the bulbs will probably be getting fairly thin…
- If you will be using a very dense fresh tree you would wrap every other branch. For sparser Nobles, you will probably need every branch wrapped. To gauge how you are doing when you are just about 2/3 down the tree, you should have a little more than half of your lights left to go (this is because the bottom branches really take a lot more than the top portion of the tree.
The key to good tree lighting is that the cords of the lights hug the tree branches and are not immediately noticeable. Come out to the end of the branch and then wrap 2-3 times on the way back to hold the first bit of cord fast to the branch. When you get in towards the trunk where it isn’t very noticeable, go across to another branch. Putting lights back into the inside of the tree gives it allot of depth and creates a beautiful display.
Julie Ann Bennett is an award winning designer and president of Holidays, a premier holiday display design firm in the Pacific North West.Holidays’ client list includes the largest building on the West coast, The Columbia Tower in Seattle and The Hotel Monaco which was featured on a list of “The World’s Hippest Hotels” by In Style Magazine last year.