Wondering how to hang Christmas lights the right way on your Christmas tree, or around windows? Or not sure of the best way to hang them outside, or in your house? The answers are right here in our guide to hanging Christmas lights – and to inspire you further, we’re sharing a wall light installation from a renowned interior designer.
Lights are an essential element of Christmas decor ideas from indoor Christmas lights for the interior and outdoor Christmas lights for the exterior of the home. They make a house look festive and welcoming and help create the magical atmosphere of the season, and our guide explains how to make the most of Christmas lights in all the situations you might use them.
Enjoy, too, the masterclass from celebrated designer Kelly Wearstler on creating wall light decor.
How to hang Christmas lights
Knowing how to hang Christmas lights to the best advantage in any situation you might use them is a skill every Christmas decorator should acquire. Our guide has the details on creating displays with an even spread of light through Christmas tree branches, around a window, on a house, and more.
Getting savvy about hanging lights also means you can achieve the look you want with minimum fuss and maximum speed and, crucially, stay safe, too.
How to hang outdoor Christmas lights
Outdoor light ideas can inspire you to illuminate the house, trees, and shrubs, on the porch, along railings or even on an outside wall. We’ll explain specifically how to hang lights on a house plus how to hang lights in a tree below. But here we’ll lay out the essentials for hanging outdoor Christmas lights.
The first rule is to be safe. That means using light strings specified for exterior use that are UL-certified, outdoor-rated GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) extension cords, and plugging them into a GFCI-protected outlet.
Always check the condition of lights before hanging them and switch them on to check they work.
Make sure you use a good ladder when working at height and have someone to hold it.
Use light clips to attach lights to a house. If you want to put them on railings and columns, adhesive clips are useful (we like Command Outdoor Light Clips from Amazon) or use universal clips for rooflines (see below).
How to hang Christmas lights on a house
The Christmas lighting idea of the largest scale is hanging Christmas lights on a house. Working safely is crucial. Don’t hang the lights when it’s rainy, snowy or icy, and be sure to have a good ladder – an articulating design is useful. Work with someone else when hanging Christmas lights high up.
Plan where you will run the lights before you begin: along the roofline, and perhaps on the porch, pillars, and railings. Measure to be sure you have sufficient lights for the areas you wish to illuminate and to run the lights to the outlets. If you need extension cords, these must be exterior grade.
Christmas lights for a house should also be specified for exterior use and UL-certified. Examine them for damage to wires and check they work before you start hanging them.
‘Avoid fixing the lights with nails, which can cause damage to the string, or a staple gun, which will make taking them down fiddly,’ advises Lucy Searle, global editor-in-chief of Homes & Gardens. ‘Clips are preferable.’ We like All Purpose Holiday Light Clips from Amazon, which can be installed on gutter edges or slid under shingles.
How to hang Christmas lights in a tree
Hanging Christmas lights in a tree in the front yard makes a beautiful display as they illuminate its shape. Thinking of indoor trees? We’ll get to the Christmas tree lights below.
Safety is key. As with hanging Christmas lights on a house, you will need lights specified for outdoor use as well as extension cords that are outdoor rated and have GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protection.
Calculate how many lights you need, allowing around 100 lights for every 1.5 feet (0.5m) of coverage. Before you hang light strings, check they are in good condition and plug them in to ensure they work.
Lay the extension cord to the base of the tree and plug a strand of lights in to start the installation. Wind the lights upwards around the trunk, spacing them evenly, then wind them onto large branches. Here, leave larger gaps between each circuit of the branch then work back down the branch wrapping the string in the center of each gap to create the same spacing as on the trunk. You may need to connect light strings to illuminate the whole tree.
How to hang Christmas tree lights
The lights on your Christmas tree are the centerpiece of all your indoor Christmas lighting ideas, and the best way to hang Christmas tree lights is to work horizontally. Before you start, check the condition of the lights then plug the lights in to make sure they work.
Start from the bottom of the tree and work upwards, winding the string around the tree both over and under branches, and placing some lights deeper into the branches.
‘I like to keep the lights on as I work,’ says Lucy Searle, global editor-in-chief of Homes & Gardens. ‘That way I can step back to check the effect as I go, altering light position as necessary.’
How to hang Christmas lights around windows
To hang Christmas tree lights around windows inside your home, as ever, check the light strings for damage then plug them in to make sure they’re working.
‘I prefer to use battery-operated LED light strings for windows to avoid the need to have an extension cord running from the outlet to the window,’ says Lucy Searle, global editor-in-chief of Homes & Gardens.
You can hang the Christmas lights from hooks – we like Command Indoor Mini Light Clips from Amazon. Position the hooks around the top and sides of the window frame at around 2 to 3in (5 to 8cm) intervals, following the manufacturer’s instructions on attaching them.
Work the light string around the window by fitting it onto the hooks.
How to hang Christmas lights – the Wearstler way
Take inspiration from Kelly Wearstler and create a light installation on a wall.
'A festive light installation adds a glowy dose of spirit to an interior and puts a cozy new lens on the traditional holiday light show,' says Kelly. 'Use an entire wall as a canvas for long strings of simple, white holiday lights.
'A geometric pattern with repetition brightens the mood while creating visual interest. I love to let the lights cascade onto the floor for an artful, spilled-over-with-joy feeling.
'A vibrant vignette infuses a space with bright dimensions and is super-easy to create. Multiple strings of same-toned lights and inconspicuous hooks or tiny tacks bring form to your vision.
'Think big and let your imagination be your inspiration.'
Follow the steps below to create Kelly’s design in your home.
Many of the items shown below are on sale at Kelly Wearstler, or of course, you can use what you already have at home.
You will need:
- String lights – ideally one long length, along multiple strings will work
- Tacks or hooks
1. Attach tacks or hooks to the wall
'Use an entire wall as a canvas for long strings of simple, white holiday lights,' says Kelly. 'A geometric pattern with repetition brightens the mood while creating visual interest.
'Multiple strings of same toned lights and inconspicuous hooks or tiny tacks bring form to your vision.'
Check the lights work before you start to hang them, then turn them off again before placing the hooks or tacks at regular intervals to create the effect above, hanging the lights as you progress across the wall.
Check the effect after you have covered about six feet of the breadth of the wall but turning on the lights. Looks good? Keep going.
2. Create a draped effect on the floor
'I love to let the lights cascade onto the floor for an artful, spilled-over with joy feeling,' says Kelly.
3. Check the spacing and neaten the display
'A vibrant vignette infuses a space with bright dimension and is super easy to create,' says Kelly.
4. Step back to check for balance
Turn the lights on, step back and admire your work.
'Think big and let your imagination be your inspiration,' concludes Kelly.
Visit Kelly Wearstler on Pinterest to see more festive styling tips.
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Lucy Searle has written about interiors, property and gardens since 1990, working her way around the interiors departments of women's magazines before switching to interiors-only titles in the mid-nineties. She was Associate Editor on Ideal Home, and Launch Editor of 4Homes magazine, before moving into digital in 2007, launching Channel 4's flagship website, Channel4.com/4homes. In 2018, Lucy took on the role of Global Editor in Chief for Realhomes.com, taking the site from a small magazine add-on to a global success. She was asked to repeat that success at Homes & Gardens, where she has also taken on the editorship of the magazine.
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