Which is yours?
Soft lights in warm colors or bright LEDs? Handcrafted ornaments or modern, minimalist baubles? Real tree or fake?
Shopping for holiday decorations can be overwhelming for any number of reasons, but firming up a Christmas aesthetic before you dive into curating your home doesn’t have to be one. Although a whirl through TikTok might suggest that the distinctly branded vibes to choose from are endless, there really is no wrong way to decorate for the holidays, so long as you remain true to your personal style. (But really: You should get the soft lights.)
But just in case you’re looking for somewhere to begin, here are 12 starter vibes to help you create the Christmas that’s right for you.
Notes of: Gothic eeriness, cobwebs and exploding penguins
For Bo Welch, a production designer on “Edward Scissorhands” and “Batman Returns” — two characteristically dark Tim Burton films that, upon closer inspection, are certifiable Christmas movies — this alternative aesthetic is all about finding the unconventional in the holidays.
“We built a context there that you would not normally associate with Christmas,” said Mr. Welch, who said he kept props from “Batman Returns” including a few rubber penguins with bombs on their backs. One Christmas he put them on “icebergs” floating in his Los Angeles home swimming pool.
For anyone who doesn’t have the budget of a 1990s holiday blockbuster, Mr. Welch advises that a dark and dreary holiday aesthetic can be achieved by giving last year’s dried-out Christmas tree, its needles all fallen off, a dusting of black and stringing it with aggressively jolly lights.
You may even want to leave up some of your Halloween decorations and incorporate them into your spooky holiday décor. For something a little more family-friendly, bring home decorations inspired by “The Nightmare Before Christmas” — the Burton Christmas film that arguably best captures this culture-clash vibe.
Notes of: surfing Santas, December sunscreen and frozen hot chocolate
Surfboards instead of sleighs, sandmen instead of snowmen — thanks to the 23.44-degree tilt of Earth’s rotational axis, Christmas isn’t necessarily about being out in the cold. For those who find themselves in Australia, Africa or South America this year (or simply wish they were), it is perfectly acceptable to make Christmas all about vibing in the sun.
If you are among the half of the planet for whom Christmas falls in winter, take a cue from the Southern Hemisphere, where the holiday is better suited to a day at the beach than an evening huddled near the fireplace. Bring out your most festive red and green folding beach chairs and find as many surfing Santa Claus ornaments as you can. Swap the hot chocolate for fresh lemonade, and, if you’re truly committed to the vibe, consider decorating a beach umbrella instead of a Christmas tree.
Once you’ve cranked the heat, you can jettison the Christmas sweaters and snow boots in favor of beach wear and flip-flops. Commit to the bit with a layer of S.P.F. 50 — and don’t forget to reapply.
Notes of: C9 bulbs, silver tinsel and stop-motion ‘Rudolph’
“When it comes to Christmas on TV, nostalgia isn’t a phase,” Maya Salam wrote in The New York Times in 2019, “it’s the bedrock.” In the past decade, retro holiday variety specials by the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Lady Gaga have channeled forebears of the form like Judy Garland and Cher. Looking backward is nothing new, of course, but embracing the right elements of the past can help you create a Christmas that takes you back to the 1950s (or ’60s, or ’70s — “vintage” here is broadly defined).
Your Christmas tree’s thin branches should be draped with multicolored C7 or C9 novelty lightbulbs — the standard red, green, yellow and blue should do the trick. A splash of Space Age silver tinsel injects an element of the proudly synthetic. Intricately designed ornaments including glass figurines of Santas, snowmen and nutcrackers are essential, and an electric toy train circling the base of your tree rounds out the fantasy.
Don’t forget to add garlands around the corners of your home and play classic Christmas specials such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” And of course, you can never go wrong this time of year with Bing Crosby on vinyl.
Notes of: menace, meme fodder and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
In her first Christmas as first lady, Melania Trump debuted a largely traditional vision of a winter wonderland at the White House. A few eyebrows were raised at a hallway decorated with skeletal bouquets of paper-white twigs, illuminated from below like the face of someone telling a spooky story at a campfire, but the world spun on. It wasn’t until the next year, when the decorations for Christmas 2018 were revealed, that a comprehensive Trump doctrine of Christmas décor was established — at least in the minds of certain Twitter users.
The two rows of “blood-red nightmare Christmas trees” were widely said to evoke “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Shining.” But regardless of the viewer’s associations — bold or menacing, dystopian or avant-garde — it was unquestionably a distinctive aesthetic.
To recreate this vibe, aim more for “modern art museum exhibit” than “warm and cozy.” If you want to be a bit more on the nose, 40 or so scarlet trees and somber lighting in the hallways of your home ought to do it.
Rockefeller Center Christmas
Notes of: crowds, Rockettes and turbocharged capitalism
A Christmas stroll through the West Village? Holiday shopping at one of the countless “sick, chic spots” in SoHo? Sorry, but nothing screams Christmas in New York quite like a trip to the beating Art Deco heart of all things grand and overstimulating, Rockefeller Center.
With its 80-foot Norway spruce decorated with five miles of lights, Rockefeller Center — or, as the actor and comedian Matt Rogers calls it, “RockaFellaCenta” — is all about thinking big.
To inject the spirit of what is essentially an uncommonly festive office park into your own celebrations, Mr. Rogers advises: “Just go all out and be extra.” “I think it’s the extremeness of New York City and Rockefeller Center that makes it so special and so memorable,” he said. “So once you feel like you’ve done enough, do more. It’s a reverse Coco Chanel: Add one more thing.”
Mr. Rogers suggests doubling your usual number of ornaments when decorating your tree. Go for an enormous star tree topper that needs two electrical sockets instead of one. Maybe even go for a second Christmas tree.
Hallmark Channel Christmas
Notes of: small towns, family-run tree farms and Lacey Chabert
So you left your life in the big city to return to the small town you once called home only to find that somewhere along the way, you forgot the true meaning of Christmas. Perhaps this really is your life, or perhaps you’re remembering the plot of one of the many made-for-TV movies you binged this year on the Hallmark Channel.
Happily, you don’t have to escape to a small Christmas tree farm to bring the Hallmark Channel to your home.
“Bring the family together and decorate the ornaments together as a family,” said Jordan Ninkovich, a production designer on Hallmark movies including “The Holiday Sitter” and “A Maple Valley Christmas.”
For Mr. Ninkovich, the quintessential Hallmark holiday home relies on a D.I.Y. approach to decorating with family and loved ones. You can create and personalize your own stockings through arts and crafts, channeling a golden age of merriment he referred to as “the John Hughes days.”
College Dorm Christmas
Notes of: discounted ornaments, mini trees and hot plates
At least until finals are over, anyone living in student housing has to find a way to cram potentially limitless holiday cheer into a fairly limited space. Economy is the name of the game.
That was how Allie Weber, a freshman at the University of Arizona, approached the decoration of her two-person dorm room. Her decorations were a mixture of new and old ornaments she brought from her family home in Chandler, Ariz., as well as a fake mini Christmas tree from Ikea.
Just be careful to follow the rules set out by campus housing.
“I did have a difficult time hanging the lights because I had run out of Command strips,” said Ms. Weber, who is a marketing major. “We’re not supposed to put holes in the wall, so we tried tape but that didn’t work. And eventually one of our neighbors gave us some extra Command strips.”
Ramen noodles as tinsel? A cleverly wrapped mini-fridge masquerading as a giant present? College is a time to let your creativity run wild.
Notes of: amateur sorcery, owls and floating candles
It’s been 16 years since the last “Harry Potter” book, but after eight films, four theme parks and untold tons of branded merchandise, the image of a Hogwarts Christmas occupies an outsize place in the imaginations of millions of Potter-loving adults.
To capture the vibe of Christmas at Britain’s premier school of witchcraft and wizardry, you could do worse than pulling references directly from the owls, broomsticks and wands of the eight original movies. Aim for warm colors and a Sorting Hat tree topper. You can get fancy with fishing line and hang LED candles from your ceiling, mimicking the floating candles in the Great Hall. And striped scarves in house colors — red and gold for Gryffindor or green and silver for Slytherin — can serve as thematic garlands on the mantel.
Once all the decorating is done, sit back and enjoy a homemade mug of butterbeer — recipes abound online — as you play John Williams’s score in the background to set the mood.
Crate & Barrel Christmas
Notes of: beige, sandstone, cream and ivory
Last month, the home-goods retailer Crate & Barrel was name-checked in a popular TikTok video shrugging off the “minimalist beige Christmas” aesthetic in favor of a more exuberant “early 2000s Christmas.” Although the maker of the video called certain elements of the vibe “pretty” and “simple,” she said that it wasn’t for her. Could it be for you?
The retailer’s home décor offerings walk the line between classic and modern, and visitors are likely to find everything they need for a cream-colored Christmas.
“We lean a little bit more into this minimalist, beautifully pared-down and edited aesthetic,” said Sebastian Brauer, Crate & Barrel’s senior vice president for product design. “But it’s not cold. It’s very warm and still joyful.”
Mr. Brauer suggests bringing in natural elements and keeping everything simple, with white-on-white palettes anchored by solid ruby reds and hunter greens. Candles are your source of light here, as they contrast against darker woodsy elements.
Notes of: roaring hearths, ghostly visitations and ‘Bah! Humbug!’
Charles Dickens needed only 100 or so pages to transform the modern celebration of Christmas forever. His short novel “A Christmas Carol” not only introduced to the English language the very concept of a “Scrooge,” but it suffused the holiday with a sentimentality that it carries to this day.
In one adaptation after another, it’s the visuals that stand out. With varying degrees of historical accuracy, the Victorian-era costumes in movies like “The Muppet Christmas Carol” point the way forward for those looking to replicate the vibe: stocking caps for sleeping, wire-rimmed glasses for glaring over, scarves for fighting the London chill. As for decoration, it’s all about holly, holly and more holly: Go crazy with entire boughs of the stuff, if you’re so moved.
Published a quarter of a century later and an ocean away, Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” staked out a similarly homey, hearth-forward vision of Christmas for the March girls of Massachusetts.
Notes of: mulled wine, spiked eggnog and slurred carols
This one is for the adults who find their Christmas spirit in Christmas spirits.
Seasonal drinks like coquito and hot buttered rum are already staples of many a holiday celebration, though usually only in the capacity of refreshment. For a slightly boozier Christmas, consider pressing your holiday drinks into service as decoration.
Given their distinctive spherical containers, ready-to-drink BuzzBallz are well suited to be refashioned into novelty ornaments (many on TikTok have already undertaken the project), and cheekily gift-wrapped cases of beer under the tree can go a long way toward setting a tipsy mood. But there are other ways to spike your celebration without getting quite as crafty. Etsy runneth over with cocktail-specific ornaments that can broadcast your go-to drink order from the branch of an evergreen.
This Christmas vibe is perfect for a low-key holiday gathering, one that can be further enlivened with holiday charades or Christmas karaoke.
Notes of: Pepto-Bismol, Barbie Land and flamingos
So maybe a red and green Christmas isn’t your thing. The tyranny of the standard color palette can be difficult to resist this time of year, but for those who want something a little less traditional, a pink Christmas might be the way to go.
Pink is coming off a banner year, since the “Barbie” movie made it almost inescapable this summer. The color gained fresh relevance this month with Nicki Minaj’s new album “Pink Friday 2,” whose release inspired countless A.I.-generated scenes from the pink-hued Gag City that fans imagined as a sort of setting for the album. And, for at least a few more days, Viva Magenta — a vibrant, fuchsia-skewing pink — is Pantone’s reigning color of the year.
For your own pink Christmas, try to contrast different shades of pink from orchid to carnation. Decorate your green Christmas tree with pink bows and a generous supply of big blush-colored, glittery ornaments, or lean all the way in with an artificial tree in a shade that’s fooling no one.