When to put up a Christmas tree, according to the pros
The Joneses next door had theirs up and fully decorated in the first week of November. Meanwhile, your best friend always leaves it to the week before the big day. But when is the best time to put up a Christmas tree? And what is considered a tree travesty? While everyone has their view, we asked a few Christmas experts for their take.
Of course, if you opt for an artificial tree, you’ll have carte blanche as to when you fetch it out of storage and unfurl those branches. On the other hand, real trees are rarely available before late November, which will somewhat dictate your timings. Then there are personal traditions, old and new, which may influence when you start wrestling your chosen pine, fir or spruce into the house. Or it may be that you simply pick the one day between Halloween and Christmas Eve when the whole family is around to help with the decorating.
Nevertheless, our experts are surprisingly unified in their opinions.
When to put up a Christmas tree – the “Big Tree’kend”
The common consensus among our experts is that the majority of people in the UK will put up their Christmas tree on the first weekend of December. In 2023, this falls on December 2nd and December 3rd. Or the ‘Big Tree’kend’, as John Lewis has dubbed it. “This is the weekend that 33% of people will put up their tree, meaning that four in 10 will have theirs up by Sunday 3rd,” says Lisa Cherry, Christmas buyer at John Lewis.
The UK’s leading garden centre, Dobbies, agrees, coining the occasion ‘Bring Your Christmas Tree Home Day’.
“Dobbies’ busiest day for customer buying their real trees is undoubtedly the first Saturday of December,” a Dobbies spokesperson told Good Homes. “This year, the day falls on Saturday 2nd December so that’s when we expect heaviest footfall across our garden centres.”
According to John Lewis’s new Festive Traditions Tracker, the next most popular date is two weeks before Christmas. It also reports that “an excited 7% of the population puts up their trees and decorations in November”, with those living in the North East most likely to do so.
Not that there’s any harm in doing it a little earlier. Pamela Smith, a gardens and parklands consultant at The National Trust, explains that when it comes to their properties, the trees are installed from mid-November, to give everyone more opportunity to see them. “It’s quite a feat. Sometimes, we’ll have trees in several rooms, and they are often much bigger than we’d have at home. People will start seeing them in the last week of November coinciding with the winter lights trails we have in a lot of our gardens.
“If you’re planning to have many family events and people visiting over the Christmas period, there’s no harm in doing the same,” she adds.
When is the best time to buy your Christmas tree?
“Sooner rather than later”, is Pam Smith’s advice when buying a real Christmas tree. “You’ll have a greater choice, and it may also be more convenient in terms of budgeting. For example, you may want to spend a bit of money on the tree now, knowing you have lots of presents to buy closer to Christmas.”
“If you want to beat the rush and buy early, but aren’t ready to have the tree inside just yet, it’s not an issue,” says Pam. “You can leave it outside in the net in the cold for a couple of weeks and it will be fine – this won’t affect its longevity in your house.”
And what about artificial trees? “We typically see most customers ordering their trees in November and December,” says Argos’s Shannon Leahy. “We have had a small percentage of early birds, with 5% of Christmas Tree orders coming in October.”
Has our timing of putting up trees changed over time?
Many associate the introduction of Christmas trees to homes with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. And it’s true that they popularised the tradition of decorating a tree with baubles, candles, fruit and other decorations in the mid-19th Century. Their Majesties were known to send decorated trees to local schools and army barracks around Windsor. But the trend went truly ‘viral’ when a drawing of the Royal Family celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree in Windsor was published in 1848 by the Illustrated London News.
At this time, it would have been typical to put up your tree quite late – around the 22nd December – as it was considered unlucky to have decorations in the house too early.
However, according to Pamela Smith, decorating the house with foliage is a winter tradition that goes back centuries. To celebrate Midwinter, the shortest day of the year, people would decorate their homes with native plants such as holly, ivy, bay, juniper and boughs of Scot’s pine or yew.
“The tradition of having greenery in our houses dates back to medieval times,” she says. “And when you think about it, it’s very logical. It must have been comforting to bring evergreens into the house at a time of year when daylight was short, people were living off stored food and worrying if spring would come again and if there would be another harvest. You can see it’s almost a ‘clinging on to summer’, really.”
As Midwinter (also known as the December solstice) usually falls on 21 or 22 December, this corresponds to Victorian timings.
More recently, and in line with Christian tradition, it became typical to put up and decorate the tree at the beginning of Advent, on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This year, Advent begins on Sunday 3rd December 2023.
But some eager households like to swap their Halloween decorations for Christmas ones as early as 1st November.
How many trees will you be putting up?
For many of us, decorating one tree will be more than enough, thank you. But just as National Trust houses often install more than one tree, John Lewis has conducted a survey that reveals many of us are following suit.
“We have some great stats around the rise of the ‘two-tree household’ from our latest Festive Traditions Tracker,” says Lisa Cherry. “One in four of us will be displaying more than one tree this year.”
According to the report, a third of us now buy a ‘show tree’ for the hallway or home office, rising to almost 40% for households with children.
7 tips for putting up your tree, according to The National Trust
If you’ve chosen your real Christmas tree, no doubt you’re excited to decorate it. But before you rush to wrap it in lights and tinsel, the National Trust’s Pam Smith has a few words of wisdom:
- Make sure your tree isn’t too wet before bringing it in
“Otherwise you’ll be casting raindrops across any wooden floors, which could lead to staining.”
- Take care when removing any netting
“Always use scissors rather than ripping the net. Otherwise, you can lose a lot of needles at that point. Also, the nets are not safe for wildlife, so make sure you tie them up into a really tight bundle before you pop yours in the bin. And never put a Christmas tree net on the compost heap.”
- Leave your tree to settle before moving it into position
“You can bring the tree into the house, but before you move it to its final position, undo the net and leave it to ‘rest’ for at least four hours. The branches will drop quite a bit as they find their original position. Your tree will end up looking quite different, so it would be a shame to position and decorate it and then notice that it’s a bit lopsided or that some branches are hanging too low.”
- Protect the floor
“Christmas trees can be sappy, and will bleed, especially in a warm house. It’s wise to sit yours on a sacrificial towel or rug to protect your floors, as the sap can be tricky to remove.”
- Keep it away from heat sources
“I would advise people not to put their trees near radiators, as the heat will dry out the tree and cause it to wither and shed needles. Light isn’t generally an issue though, so there’s no need to hide your tree in a shady corner.”
- Think about access
“People love to put their trees in bay windows, but when you go to open and close the curtains, you will end up knocking the tree every time, and it will start shedding needles fast. If this is the only logical spot for it, make sure it’s as far forward as possible.”
- Make sure there’s a water source
“If it’s a cut tree, I’d highly advise buying a base that you can put water into. You’ll be surprised how much water the trees continue to ‘drink’ in your home.”