How Wacky Are Thy Branches: The World’s Strangest Christmas Trees
If we’re being honest, the history of the Christmas tree is murky, pre-dating Christianity itself. European pagans worshipped evergreen trees as symbols of eternal life, and in Scandinavia, the tradition survived religious conversion. Many decorated their homes with wreaths and trees for the birds at Christmas time, and to shoo the devil away at the New Year.
The modern Christmas tree is most often traced back to the Renaissance, typically to protestant reformer Martin Luther himself. Standing at the vanguard of arbor décor, he is believed to be the first to bedeck an evergreen tree with lighted candles
Whatever the story, it’s probably fair to say Luther and his forebears didn’t envision a future in which their holy trees weren’t harvested from the forest. They certainly didn’t envision a 600-ton sand sculpture on the beaches of Florida.
Some of the trees on this list are avant-garde. They’re risky. Some are even heretical, like the fire-belching “Traffic Tree” in the Christmas market-filled city of Berlin, or the Jack Daniels’ Barrel Tree in Tennessee.
Others, like the “Poinsettia Tree” at Omaha’s Lauritzen Gardens, or the “Tumbleweed Tree” in Chandler, Arizona, may have garnered a more favorable—if still quizzical reaction—from the early Christians. Or maybe not.
Either way, all the attractions on this list stand at the front line of Christmas tree evolution, pushing the age-old tradition well beyond recognition. Perhaps this holiday season, you’ll be inspired to ditch the ornaments and twinkling tree topper.
The Legoland Christmas Tree in Carlsbad, California
Using 245,000 forest green Duplo bricks, LEGOLAND in California creates a 30-foot-tall Christmas tree every year. The festive display is often accompanied by life-size LEGO reindeer, a sleigh, and a jolly LEGO Santa. Sorry, kid. This one is better.
The Sand Tree in West Palm Beach, Florida
Weighing in at nearly 600 tons, Sandi is the world’s largest Christmas tree made entirely from sand. Sculpted by Team Sandtastic—an internationally renowned sand-sculpting team—Sandi climbs nearly 35 feet high on the West Palm Beach Waterfront and steals the show during the city’s month-long Holiday in Paradise celebration. You know it’s a popular attraction when it has it’s own Twitter account: @SandiTreeWPB
The Traffic Light Tree in London, England
Created in 1998 by French sculptor Pierre Vivant, the “Traffic Light Tree” originally stood on a roundabout near London’s Canary Wharf, but has since been relocated to a different roundabout near Billingsgate Market. The tree stands more than 26-feet-tall and incorporates 75 sets of computer-operated traffic lights.
“The sculpture imitates the natural landscape of the adjacent London Plane Trees,” Vivant said, “while the changing pattern of the lights reveals and reflects the never ending rhythm of the surrounding domestic, financial, and commercial activities.”
So maybe it’s not technically a Christmas tree. But with all those lights (and critique of consumer culture), it may be hard to tell the difference.
The Largest Human Christmas Tree in Chengannur, India
According to Guinness World Records, the largest human Christmas tree in the world was assembled on December 19, 2015, in Chengannur, India. Some 4,030 participants—most of them local school children—sported green, red, or brown hats and shirts, depending on which part of the tree they represented. The previous record was set in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 2014, with 2,945 volunteers and government employees.
The Jack Daniels’ Barrel Tree in Lynchburg, Tennessee
The Jack Daniels’ Barrel Tree is exactly what it sounds like: a Christmas tree crafted entirely from 53-gallon Jack Daniels’ whiskey barrels. The tree requires 140 empty barrels, each one weighing 115 pounds. After roughly a week of stacking (with the help of a heavy-duty loader) the 26-foot-tall tree weighed in at a staggering 16,000 pounds. At Jack Daniels, they take the holiday “spirit” seriously.
The Tumbleweed Tree in Chandler, Arizona
Since 1957, the city of Chandler has crafted a Christmas tree from what was once its most plentiful natural resource: the tumbleweed. Today, Chandler is hardly the isolated community it was 60 years ago (in fact, it’s now a suburb of Phoenix) and the tumbleweeds don’t tumble like they used to. Parks employees keep their eyes peeled for months each year, hoping to gather the nearly 1,000 tumbleweeds necessary to veil the 25-foot-tall wire frame. Once the tumbleweeds are attached, the city sprays the tree with 25 gallons of white paint, 20 gallons of flame retardant, and 65 pounds of glitter. The entire thing is then adorned with 1,200 holiday lights.
The Ski Tree in Telluride, Colorado
Created in 2013 by local metal artist Anton Viditz-Ward, in collaboration with a slew of community organizations, the world’s first and only “Ski Tree” in Telluride stands 17-feet tall. It’s composed entirely of donated skis, and topped with a starburst of ski poles. The installation is “a celebration of snowsports and what makes Telluride funky,” according to the official Ski Tree Facebook page. Each year, the tree lighting is followed by a ceremonial ski burn that pays homage to the Norse God Ullr, Patron Saint of Skiers.
The Traffic Tree in Berlin, Germany
Towering at nearly 40-feet-tall and belching fire every 30 minutes, this dystopian twist on the holiday tradition earned the honorable title of “Germany’s Ugliest Christmas Tree” by German tabloid Bild when it was first displayed in 2011. Artist Thomas Plattner, who specializes in found objects, built the “Traffic Tree” from scrap metal and junkyard paraphernalia. It’s a reflection, he told The Local, of “the throwaway nature of our society.”
The Holographic Christmas Tree in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Installed in December 2013 in the atrium at the Rijksmuseum, this 24-foot-tall shape-shifting Christmas tree isn’t a physical tree at all: it’s a hologram. Designed in part by Beambrothers, a company specializing in “high end projection,” the holographic Christmas tree played on loop above visitors’ heads, rotating 360 degrees, changing colors and shaking loose in the wind.
The Poinsettia Christmas Tree in Omaha, Nebraska
Every year since 2001, Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha has displayed a 20-foot-tall poinsettia tree lit up for the Christmas season. In early July, gardeners plant more than 5,000 poinsettia cuttings from 25 separate cultivars in their greenhouse gardens in preparation for their holiday show. The tree itself is composed of 720 potted poinsettias, which are replaced halfway through the show to maintain the tree’s texture, color, and bloom. To add to the holiday spirit, model trains circle the display on 300 feet of track, snaking through dozens of miniature Omaha-area landmarks.
The Deer Horn Tree in Junction, Texas
In a county thick with whitetail deer, why not build a 12-foot-tall antler tree outside the wild game processing plant? The antlers were first assembled on the lawn of Kimble Processing in 1968. Around the holidays, the tree is adorned with ornaments, topped with a star, and bathed in floodlight. As of press time, Rudolf could not be reached for comment.
The Lobster Trap Christmas Tree in Rockland, Maine
This year marks the 13th-anniversary of the famous Lobster Trap Christmas Tree in downtown Rockland. Constructed by more than 30 volunteers from various community organizations, the 40-foot-tall tree features no less than 154 lobster traps and bursts with hometown pride.
“We brag that our Lobster Trap Tree is the largest one in the world,” Gordon Page, Sr., executive director of Rockland Main Street, Inc., told Travel + Leisure, “determined by a special hyperbolic measuring device designed specifically for this purpose.”
The Hubcap Christmas Tree in Baltimore, Maryland
Ten feet tall and made of more than 100 hubcaps, the Hubcap Christmas Tree on can be found on 34th Street (popularly known as Christmas Street) between Keswick Road and Chestnut Avenue. Residents and tourists alike are delighted every year by the return of the Hubcap Christmas Tree, first created by artist and Christmas Street resident Jim Pollack in 1995. That year, it was only three feet tall. The following year it snowed and nearly covered the tree, so Pollack quickly added more. Today, the tree stands 10-feet-tall and is a favorite attraction for Hampden residents.