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Holiday DIY: Christmas Tree Wall Panel

by Maxwell Tielman

When my father was a child, he shared a home not only with his parents, but also seven brothers and sisters. Living in Grand Island, New York, in a small suburban house, his large family often struggled to make ends meet. Throughout my own childhood, I was the audience for countless stories from my father’s youth. Stories that, with their “When I was your age” slant, were often invoked to show me how lucky I was. There was the time when my father worked as a farmhand, picking peas in the freezing cold rain. Or the time when all he received for Christmas was a coloring book from the local pharmacy. Still, although space and money were tight, my father and his family always managed to make do with a bit of hard work and imagination. For all the stories that involved struggle and hardship, there were more filled with creativity, kinship and warmth. There was, for example, the time that my father and his seven siblings built forts in the woods behind his house. There was also the time when, in lieu of an actual Christmas tree, my grandfather built one by tacking Christmas lights to the wall in the shape of a tree.

The last story was often told as my family readied our own Christmas tree for the holidays. As my sister and I impatiently wrapped strings of twinkle lights around pine branches, my father would remind us of his own father’s quirky ad-hoc tannenbaum. To celebrate this tiny bit of yuletide ingenuity, I decided to construct a similar “wall tree” — albeit one that is slightly more dressed up — from a few basic ingredients. The results are surprisingly charming and took only a few hours to achieve. A great alternative for people with pine allergies, this “tree” would also be wonderful for people who travel frequently, college students or first-time apartment renters. For full directions, continue reading after the jump! — Max


  • a panel of MDF (The one I used was pre-cut at Home Depot.)
  • a string of Christmas lights
  • wrapping paper or wallpaper (I used a few sheets of Paper Source’s hedgehog gift wrap because it reminded me of an updated version of medieval “mille-fleurs” wall tapestries.)
  • glue sticks or spray adhesive
  • gold craft paint
  • a paintbrush
  • cardboard or cardstock
  • an X-Acto knife
  • a power drill
  • a drill bit that is roughly the size of your Christmas light bulbs
  • masking tape
  • duct tape



1. Glue your wrapping paper onto your MDF panel using spray adhesive or a glue stick. It’s okay if pieces overlap.

2. Lay your panel flat on the floor. Place your Christmas lights on top of your panel and stagger them in a zigzag as you would for a Christmas tree.

3. Tape the corners of your Christmas lights to the panel with masking tape.

4. Demarcate where your lights will be by making a small pencil mark on your panel in the location of each light.

5. Remove tape and lights from your panel.

6. Lean your panel against the wall and, with your power drill, drill holes into each of your pencil marks. When completed, clean excess or torn material from the back of your panel.

7. Lay your panel on the floor again.

8. With a piece of cardboard or cardstock that has a 1-inch circle cut from it, stencil gold craft paint over randomly selected drill-holes on your panel. Although this step isn’t necessary, it provides a nice shimmering background to some of your lights.

9. Lean your panel against the wall, back side facing out.

10. Insert your Christmas lights one at a time into the holes you drilled in the panel. Be sure that the end with the plug is at the bottom of your panel.

11. Secure your strand of lights to the back of your panel by placing duct tape over the cord between lights.

12. Plug that thing in! You’re done!

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  • Grand Island??? I’m from Grand Island too (albeit a wee bit older than you) and now live in NYC. Great DIY project. Now of course I have to check out your blog to say a further hello!

  • This year I have been feeling a bit more Grimm than usual, as all my beloved Christmas decorations are in storage five states away from me…I have a strand of lights that someone gave me as a gag gift…So I think I am going to try this, but simplify it by using foamcore board from Dollar Tree. I will post a picture if I get it figured out