Twelve Christmas Tree Traditions from Around the World

The Many Ways to
Decorate a Christmas Tree

“The Christmas tree is a symbol of love, not money. There’s a kind of glory to them when they’re all lit up that exceeds anything all the money in the world could buy.”

–Andy Rooney

The above quote from one of the 20th century’s most beloved commentators speaks volumes. People around the world love their Christmas trees, and they display that love in various ways.

Christmas trees around the worldChinese Shèngdànshù

Christians are a minority in China, only about 1% of the total population. But the season is still celebrated in major cities, where Christmas trees, lights and other decorations adorn the shopping malls and department stores. (In fact, many Chinese refer to Christmas trees as “trees of light.”)

Ironically, although most of the world’s artificial Christmas trees and decorations are made in China, only a few Chinese households have a tree in their home. And for those that do, ornaments are typically handmade, such as paper chains, traditional paper lanterns and fresh flowers.

Ugandan mti wa Krismasi

With 85% of Ugandans being Christian, the holiday is definitely celebrated. But most do not  decorate evergreen trees. Rather, since Christmas falls in the summer months, many Ugandans decorate the palm trees and mango trees both in and outside their homes.

Typical ornaments include items from nature, multi-colored balloons, ribbons, cotton, cards, candy, twinkling multicolored lights, as well as candles and colorful bells.

Indonesian Pohon Natal

Christmas trees around the worldMost Christmas trees in Indonesia are artificial, although some families opt for natural pine.  (The largest Indonesian Christmas tree farm is located in Puncak, West Java.)

In Java, the world’s most populous island, residents decorate their trees with simple ornaments made from wood, paper, plastic bottles or other recyclable materials.

But the country’s most unique Christmas trees are handmade in the homes of Balinese—from chicken feathers!  Producing these feather trees requires a huge effort in order to satisfy the demand for this popular item, both locally and abroad.

Greek Christougenniátiko Déntro

Although Greeks do decorate Christmas trees, they also decorate boats—both real and model. (St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors.)  Children spend days adorning the boats with strings of lights and other ornaments; they then sing Christmas carols while sailing on the decorated boats.

The country’s first known Christmas tree was erected in 1833 by King Otto, a native of Bavaria. The new king wanted to make the Palace of Othonas seem more like home, so he set up both a Christmas tree and a large decorated boat. Today, both traditions are popular with Greeks, and every year, Syntagma Square in central Athens displays both, as the following news clip explains:


Indian Krisamas Vrksh

Each area of India has a distinctly different way of celebrating Christmas. For instance, Christians in several rural states decorate mango or banana trees instead of the traditional pine tree.

However, Indian Christians who reside in urban areas typically decorate potted fir trees with stars, tinsels, toys, plastic fruits, and colorful streamers. The trees are then placed in front of Christian houses, shops and restaurants.


Ukrainian Rizdvyana Yalynka

In the U.S., we wouldn’t normally think of decorating our Christmas trees with spiders and spider webs.  But that’s exactly what they do in Ukraine. In addition to all the typical ornaments, Ukrainians always include spiders and cobwebs in their tree-decorating scheme.

The spiders are supposed to bring good luck, based on a famous folktale, “The Christmas Spider.” There are various versions of the story, but they all involve  a poor family who can’t afford to decorate their Christmas tree. During the night, a spider covers the tree in webs, which turn to gold on Christmas morning.

Argentinian Árbol de Navidad

Christmas trees are very popular in Argentina and are often decorated by December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Of course, there’s no snow in Argentina at this time of year, so Argentinians improvise by hanging cotton balls on their Christmas trees. A nativity scene (or “pesebre”) is always an important part of the display, as well.

Australian Christmas Tree

For Australians, Christmas falls in the middle of summer, so most of them spend the holiday at the beach.

Not surprisingly, their Christmas trees reflect this beach theme, often decorated with seashells and ornaments carved from driftwood and other natural elements.

Decorations hand-crafted by Aboriginal artists are also popular, as well as ornaments that feature native fauna, such as kangaroos and koalas.

The most popular natural tree for Australians is the Monterey pine. Though it’s no longer commonly grown for Christmas trees in the United States and Europe, this conifer thrives Down Under.

Icelandic Jólatré

In Icelandic folklore, 13 elves (or “Yule Lads”) visit children with gifts during the 13 days before Christmas. Children leave a shoe by their bedroom window and the designated Yule Lad for that day will leave a present, such as sweets and small gifts. (If the child has been naughty, however, the elf will leave a rotten potato or a little message reminding him to be good.)

Icelanders use replicas of these elfin figures to decorate their Christmas trees. The Icelandic flag is another popular decoration, and the tree is always topped with a star or a crown.

Japanese Kurisumasutsurī

Christmas has only been widely celebrated in Japan for the last few decades. It’s still not viewed as a religious holiday or celebration, since only about 1% of Japanese citizens are Christian.

Although few Japanese households set up their own Christmas tree, large, brightly lit tree displays can still be seen in major urban areas. For those who do have household trees, handmade origami ornaments — birds, animals, small fans or paper lanterns — are the most popular decorations. They also use small toys, dolls and wind chimes.

Lebanese Shajarat Eid Almilad

Lebanon is the only Middle East nation where Christmas is an official holiday. Most of the country’s Christians are Maronite Catholics, who typically decorate their homes with manger scenes (called “nativity cribs”) instead of Christmas trees. These cribs are based around caves and are decorated with chick peas, wheat grains, lentils, broad beans and oats. (The crops are grown on cotton in the weeks leading to Christmas.)

In an interesting twist, many Lebanese Muslims do decorate their homes with traditional Christmas trees.

Jamaican Christmas Tree

Christmas treesJamaica has more churches per square mile than any other country in the world, so it’s not surprising that Christmas is one of the most important religious and cultural celebrations.

Christmas trees are everywhere, both artificial and real. Locally grown Blue Mountain pines grow high up in the lush mountains and are a popular option.

When it comes to decorating, Jamaicans love their lights (which they call “pepper lights”) and use lots of them. Pine cones collected from the Caribbean pine tree and colorful balloons are also common.

German Weihnachtsbaum

Christmas treeNo description of the world’s Christmas tree traditions would be complete without the one that started it all.

Germans first began decorating Christmas trees in the Middle Ages. The tradition of using candles to light them is credited to Martin Luther in the early 16th century.

That tradition continues today. Although some households now use “electric candles” for tree decoration, many a Germanic tree glows with the warm light of real wax candles. (Germans use special candle holders for this; the candles are never allowed to burn for a long time or left unattended.)

Another Bavarian tradition is the so-called “Bride’s Tree.” A dozen special hand-blown glass ornaments are hung to help ensure a happiness for a married couple. (These special ornaments and their symbolic significance are listed in the box below.)

The 12 “Bride’s Tree” Ornaments

Angel (God’s guidance) • Bird (joy) • Fish (Christ’s blessing) • Flower basket (good wishes) • Fruit basket (generosity) • Heart (true love) • House (protection) • Pine cone (fruitfulness) • Rabbit (hope) • Rose (affection) • Santa (goodwill) • Teapot (hospitality)

Such a Nice Tree!

In some parts of Germany, December 26 is set aside as the day to visit friends and praise their Christmas tree via the following ritual:

When entering a friend’s home, you look at the tree and pronounce “Ein schoener Baum!” (“A nice tree!”).

The guest is then rewarded with a small glass of some alcoholic drink, typically some sort of brandy.

The visitors stay for a while, talking, eating cookies — and praising the tree for another reward (“A VERY nice tree!”) — before moving on to the next house.


Why Christmas
We Love Indonesia
House Beautiful
Greek Boston
My Island Jamaica
The German Way & More
German Culture





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