CHARLOTTE, NC. Many people find that Christmas is one of the most stressful season of the year. With the encroachment of the season creeping earlier into the calendar each year, apprehension over family, food, presents, shopping mall crowds, traffic, holiday parties and other intrusions are legitimate reasons to dread the holidays. Next thing you know, stressed-out shoppers and consumers might start doing weird things. Like hanging their Christmas trees upside-down.
In an effort to return to a bit of traditional Christmas spirit, today’s Myth Trivia column returns to a simpler day. We look back on a time when the festive gathering of friends and family was something to look forward to and savor rather than dread. This feels better already. So let’s explore some interesting historical perspectives on how many of our traditions began.
Upside-down Christmas trees. Really.
In our introduction above, we mentioned in jest the notion that harried holiday shoppers might overreact to the stress by doing something strange. Like hanging their Christmas trees upside down. That would be a real attention-getter.
Indeed, the notion of upside-down Christmas trees may seem a bit absurd at first. But believe it or not, in recent years this custom has gained traction in many outposts of Western society.
Such a seemingly strange custom may indeed appear to be a modern form of rebellion against traditional, upright Christmas trees. But the story behind the custom actually has a long history dating back to the 7th century A.D.
Right-side up is Paradise?
The earliest Christmas trees decorated in what we generally regard as the traditional way are actually of more recent vintage than the older model. The the first records of these “new style” Christmas trees date back just to the 1500s in Riga, Latvia. Christmas tree decorations there were typically festooned with food and flowers representing the abundance of the harvest. Symbolically the idea of the tree was actually to pay homage to the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden.
Slavic cultured joined the Upside-down Club
Hanging Christmas trees upside-down is most common primarily among Slavic cultures such as Poles, Slovaks and Ukrainians. But in recent years, as noted above, their idea seems to be slowly spreading to other parts of the world.
According to legend, St. Boniface of England became infuriated when he witnessed pagan worshipers revering an oak tree in the 7th century. Boniface ordered the tree cut down. But a few years later, a fir tree sprouted in the same spot.
Ironically, using the triangular shape of the fir tree as a metaphor to describe the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Boniface converted numerous pagans to Christianity. Soon, inspired by the fir tree, Christian converts began calling it “God’s Trinity Tree.”
Hundreds of years later, in the 12th century, Christians hung cut Christmas trees upside-down from their ceilings during the Christmas season in Central and Eastern Europe. This reversed position was said to symbolize the shape of Christ being crucified on the cross. At the same time, the triangular form of these fir trees was believed to resemble the Son of God becoming Man.
Polish Christmas trees
In Poland, Polish Christians decorated their Christmas trees with fruit, nuts, sweets wrapped in shiny paper, straw, ribbon, colored paper and gold-painted pine cones. Oftentimes they hung their decorated trees above the dinner table. But never until Christmas Eve.
In a similar way, residents of Krakow traditionally decorated the boughs of their Christmas trees with apples, nuts, pears and gingerbread. But none of these holiday goodies could be eaten until the day after Christmas.
Advocates of the upside-down Christmas tree tradition argue that their method offers greater benefits than those offered by those more familiar right-side up Christmas trees. For one thing, ornaments are not as accessible to small children and their curious little hands. In addition, there is no chance of rambunctious kids knocking down the tree by accident.
The same theory holds true for equally rambunctious pets, which also can prove hazardous as Christmas morning approaches.
A third reason upside-down Christmas trees win the contest is the ability to pile more presents underneath such trees. Better yet, presents are easier to reach when it comes time to pass them out.
A spreading tradition
Though more Westerners are adapting the ancient tradition of upside-down Christmas trees in an effort to return the season to its original more humble meaning, Eastern Europe is leaning in the other direction. Increasingly, families now choose the more modern method of setting the tree upright and adding contemporary LED lights.
No one can dispute that in the 21st century world, everything seems topsy-turvy and inside-out. Happily, though, if you want to escape back into the past to bring back the Yuletide season as it once was, now you can. An upside-down Christmas tree might just be one way to begin.
(The original version of this article appeared in this publication on 11/27/2017.)
—Headline image: Treetopia Knocked Upside Down Artificial Christmas Tree, 7 Feet, Clear Lights.
2018 sales image of tree for sale via Amazon.com.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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