With Thanksgiving just a few days away, you’re probably making plans to fetch a balsam fir from the Christmas-tree lot on the corner (or that artificial one from the attic). You’re going to want to decorate that tree, but if you’re feeling less than inspired — or simply don’t know where to start — we spoke to a few professional decorators for their advice on how to craft the perfect Christmas tree. First things first, according to Brandon Stephens of Christmas Decor, a nationwide holiday-decorating network based in Irving, Texas: “You have to decide what the personality of your Christmas tree is going to be. Do you want something that’s over the top, understated, or middle of the road? Do you want to cover every green branch or have a sparsely lit tree?” A color scheme is a good place to start, according to Robert Syska of NY Horticulture Group, a landscaping company that provides commercial and residential holiday-decorating services. Syska says you can’t really go wrong with red, gold, and green ornaments, and a mix of matte and shiny finishes can go a long way. Kade Laws-Andrews — an interior designer in Baldwin County, Alabama, who has done everything from whimsical to traditional designs — agrees. For her home, “I’ve recently gone back to old school and just do red balls, some plaid ribbon, white lights, and that’s it,” she says. “It is surprisingly, stunningly gorgeous on a natural tree.”
If you’re looking to stock up on some flair for your tree or want a delightful little something for someone else to unwrap on the big day, we rounded up a selection of the best ornaments in an assortment of styles from various retailers. From classics like glass balls and clear icicles to more kitsch-inspired options like pickle ornaments and realistic-looking sticks of butter, read on for all our favorites — with recommendations from our experts and Strategist writers and editors alike. Whether you’re going full Hallmark Christmas movie or keeping it minimal, there’s something for everyone.
Best classic Christmas ornaments
While the experts we spoke to mostly rely on trade-only vendors for their projects, they told us about a few brands that are available to the public including Northlight, which Laws-Andrews recommends. This writer, Ro, has been using this set of shatterproof gold ornaments as filler flair for several Christmases now, and they’ve held up great over the years. The set includes matte, shiny, and glitter finishes, and from afar, they even look like glass. (If gold is not your thing, Northlight offers an array of different colors and finishes.) As far as placement goes, Syska has a tip: “Shiny balls go inside of the tree because they reflect light, and matte balls go on the outside.”
Northlight also makes glass ornaments, and we particularly like this festive set of jewel-toned polka-dotted ones.
According to Laws-Andrews, Kurt Adler is another favorite that’s available widely. Here’s a set of egg-shaped glass ornaments with glitter and gems that’ll pair nicely with more traditional bulbs.
Here’s another set from Kurt Adler, this time comprising mini glass balls with inset reflector elements.
Or why not try these iridescent glass balls that would almost disappear into the tree?
While these don’t look like much, former senior editor Anthony Rotunno uses a similar set of glass icicle ornaments for his tree. “We hung them after placing all our other ornaments. When observed from afar, they give the tree a delicate touch, almost as if actual tiny icicles have frozen in place on it,” he explains.
Frontgate, which offers an array of artificial Christmas trees, also has a lovely collection of ornaments like this set of ombre glass drip baubles. The pearlescent finish and mix of ball, diamond, onion, and double-point shapes look so pretty on a sparsely decorated tree.
Best vintage-inspired Christmas ornaments
If you want the vintage look without the vintage price tag, Cody Foster is one of our favorite manufacturers of delightfully retro ornaments. Strategist senior writer Karen Iorio Adelson is particularly fond of the company’s miniature food ornaments. “I kind of want to buy them to just display around my apartment because they’re so precious,” she says.
Rotunno is also a fan of John Derian’s wonderfully diverse selection of glass ornaments, and he makes an annual pilgrimage to the store this time of year to stock up. “While they run the gamut in price, many of the ornaments are surprisingly affordable for the quality,” like this silly $20 roast chicken, he says.
While there is some debate over the origins of hanging a pickle from a Christmas tree, doing so is a time-honored tradition for many including Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo. She pointed us to this traditional glass pickle ornament from Kurt Adler, complete with bumps.
John Derian also makes a bunch of delightfully realistic-looking pickles.
Laws-Andrews likes the Christmas décor at Park Hill Collection. While it’s not cheap, this set of vintage-inspired Christmas fruits (figs, pomegranates, and citrus) is too delectable to pass up.
How about a juicy tomato for your tree?
Imagine hanging a stick of butter on your tree.
MoMA Design Store has an expertly curated selection of Christmas ornaments you won’t find anywhere else. While it’s on the pricier side, we love this nativity set hand-painted and hand-chiseled by artisans in Colombia from sustainably forested wood.
For the most serious of Christmas-tree decorators, here’s one that’s sure to impress. This glass one is mouth-blown and holds a detailed metallic Christmas tree with sparkling lights and a garland.
Perhaps, like our junior writer Arielle Avila, you “grew up surrounded by capiz lanterns, coasters, and trinkets” this time of year. If so, you too might find that hanging this capiz-star ornament makes you feel closer to home. “Feeling more homesick than usual this year, I ordered myself one as a sweet little reminder of my family,” she says.
Growing up, Ro and her family decorated their tree with glass bell ornaments like these. “They’re just the prettiest,” she says, adding that “the glass is delicate and the chime they make when they clink is so slight and lovely.”
Best novelty Christmas ornaments
If you’re still into the plaster-bust trend of 2018, may we suggest this brilliant ornament of Aphrodite blowing a bubble with her gum?
Strategist deals writer Leah Muncy says Urban Outfitters has a surprisingly good selection of ornaments including this festive cowboy corgi and equally cheerful bichon frise. “I can’t think of anything better than a felted dog in a little woolen hat perched atop a tree branch,” she says.
This set of gnomes would be most at home hanging from a Scandinavian-inspired tree.
Approved by Hallmark-movie set decorators, this ornament can be personalized with your (or a loved one’s) address.
Corsillo reminds us that “anything ‘Peanuts’ feels very Christmasy.” Here’s Charlie Brown with a little tree that would be a hit with the whole family.
Far from the ones you (or the kid) cut up in kindergarten, Cody Foster’s paper-snowflake ornaments are as exquisite as they come.
Dressed in ballet slippers and a tutu, MacKenzie-Childs’s take on Santa’s reindeer Dancer, like its other home goods, is just kooky enough.
According to Goodee, the ceramic beads that make up these ornaments are “handcrafted and hand-painted by female artisans in Nairobi.” In other words, each ornament in the set of four is completely unique.
Of the countless Santa ornaments you can get, we think this cheeky one from Bergdorf Goodman’s holiday pop-up shop has the perfect mix of old-fashioned charm and au courant humor.
Here’s another option for the minimalist: ceramic knots designed by Brooklyn artist Virginia Sin.
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