How do I choose which lights I need at Christmas?

How do I choose which lights I need at Christmas?

Who doesn't love the warm glow of festive lights on a cold, dark winter's evening

Image above: LED snowball lights, glass icicles, crystallised branches, white frosted leaf garland, snowy pine branches & cones

If there’s one thing that’s absolutely essential after the Christmas tree, it’s lights and lots of them. There are dozens of places where a string of lights wouldn’t go amiss. Even if you buy a pre-lit Christmas tree there is always room to add some more of your own. We recommend 100 lights per foot of tree and a good quality pre-lit will be lighted to these standards but adding more will give you the ‘wow’ factor. This 3m (10’) snowy tree in the store window has 9,000 cool white compact LED lights (6 strings of 1,500) and it certainly doesn’t look over the top.

Hayes Christmas window showing snowy tree with 9,000 LED lights

First thing to consider is whether you want cool or warm white or multi coloured; the days of individual colours such as red, blue and copper have largely died out and if you do want these colours they may take a little searching for. Next point to consider is where you are going to put the lights. The obvious choice is the Christmas tree but there are plenty of other spots which can be illuminated and once you’ve lit up the house grab a small battery operated set, fasten them around your waist and go clubbing!

There are lots of different light strings some more suitable for some locations than others. The normal strings have spaces between the bulbs varying from 2.5 – 15cm (1 – 6”) apart and usually come in long lengths so are suitable for the tree but if you use them along a mantle-piece you will have to pass them to and fro several times. The compact lights are only 1 – 2cm apart so give a much better lighting effect but you will need more to cover the tree. Click here to watch the video showing how to put the lights onto a Christmas tree.

cool white LED compact lights

Cluster lights can vary from 1cm – 2 lights at each point so are a huge number of lights, for example 768, on just a short cable, 6 metres. These give a fantastic display along the mantle-piece, around the bannister, over pictures or down the centre of the dining table. They do look fantastic on a tree but as they are only on a short length of wire you need lots of sets which can work out quite pricey. If you are putting them onto a tree don’t wrap them round each individual branch just drape them in swags or in a spiral.

LED cluster Christmas lights

Novelty lights can look fantastic in the right place; the snowball lights go well on a windowsill or mantle-piece with an arrangement of other snowy objects, such as heavily crystallised branches and frosted cones. Snowmen and Santas make the ideal decoration for a child’s room and as most lights are LED nowadays they are cool to the touch and low voltage so perfectly safe for children.

Net lights are a really easy way to illuminate bushes in the garden, just throw them over. They also look fantastic fastened over a window or behind the bed.

Listed below are just a few more suggestions:

  • Along the mantelpiece as part of an arrangement
  • Down the dining table
  • Around the bannister
  • Entwined in a windowsill arrangement with lighted houses and figures
  • Over doorways
  • Over pictures and mirrors
  • Around a wreath
  • Threaded through a swag or garland
  • Decorating inside a lantern
  • In a centre-piece arrangement using a charger plate or fruit bowl with a few baubles or floral pieces
  • In a glass vase with some glass baubles
  • On a couple of small trees either side of the front door
  • Run rope lights alongside a footpath in the garden
  • Fasten to the wall and use as a card holder
  • Make an alternative Christmas tree by winding lights around a decorative metal garden obelisk
  • Wire together 2 wire hanging baskets and cover with lights and baubles to make a hanging lighted ball; secure with cable ties
  • Add glass baubles to a light string for a lighted bauble garland
  • Make a lighted star, heart or tree out of willow (Click here to watch the video showing how to make a simple rustic twig tree)
  • Make a twig tree and twine card holder and decorate with lights
  • Attach icicle lights to a picture rail and hang glass baubles of varying sizes off each strand

Top tips:

  • Make sure the lights work before going to all the trouble of lighting the tree.
  • If you’re using lights together with baubles, glass works much better than the shatterproof as the glass is much more luminous and reflects the lights beautifully.
  • Don’t forget if winding lights or a garland around the bannister don’t wind it around the handrail, if someone slips and grabs the rail the garland is quite likely to give way.
  • Don’t leave wires trailing across the floor so if lighting the dining table always use battery lights unless the table is up against the wall.
  • Don’t place the lights and decorations close to a naked flame; if decorating a lantern use battery operated candles.
  • Make sure your step ladder is placed on a level surface and has no clutter around the foot for you to trip over when you step off the ladder.
  • If lighting the garden make sure the lights are for outdoors and plugged into an outdoor socket with no trailing wires providing a trip hazard. Get a qualified electrician to install an outdoor socket, it is illegal to do it yourself. Taking leads through a window can lead to it rubbing and exposing the bare wire.
  • Don’t use staples, nails or other metal fittings to attach your lights.
  • Store strings of lights by wrapping around a piece of sturdy cardboard.
  • Don’t store in a damp atmosphere.
  • If you have to use an extension lead in the garden get a cheap plastic box with a secure lid, cut a notch out of either end and place the connection inside.

Angela Slater

Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas.