8 Regional Alternatives to Christmas Trees

iStock
iStock

Christmas trees, along with mistletoe and festive wreaths, are an integral part of the December holiday season. Although conifers such as fir, pine, and spruce are the most popular Christmas trees, some people around the country switch it up and decorate with unconventional options. From trees made of cacti to whiskey barrels, set your sights on these eight regional alternatives to traditional Christmas trees.

1. CACTI // ARIZONA

Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is known for many varieties of cacti, from the saguaro to the prickly pear. Some families in the southwest incorporate native cacti into their Christmas celebrations, but a hotel in Tuscon takes it to another level. Each Christmas since 1986, the Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa has displayed a Golden Barrel Cactus Christmas tree, made of 17 rows of 300 of the small, round cacti. The 24-foot tree is decorated with regal ribbons and lights.

2. SAND // FLORIDA

Sandi Land in West Palm Beach Florida
iStock

Given their state’s year-round warm temperatures, Floridians are much more familiar with sand than snow. As a nod to the Sunshine State’s warm weather, some Floridians celebrate Christmas by lighting a tree made of sand. Along the West Palm Beach Waterfront, sand sculptors create a 35-foot tall Christmas tree made entirely of sand. Nicknamed Sandi, the tree weighs a whopping 600 tons.

3. POINSETTIAS // SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations everywhere, but Southern Californians show their love for the Mexican plant in a special way. Residents of San Diego gather in the Little Italy neighborhood to marvel at a poinsettia tree. One thousand local poinsettia plants are stacked to make a 25-foot Christmas tree that is then adorned with thousands of carefully placed LED lights.

4. LOBSTER TRAPS // NEW ENGLAND

Lobster Traps Christmas Tree
iStock

Why decorate a conifer when you can build a Christmas tree out of hundreds of lobster traps? The crustacean is a big part of life in New England, and you can find lobster trap Christmas trees in towns such as Gloucester, Massachusetts and Rockland, Maine. The trees typically consist of wooden or metal lobster traps that are stacked upon one another, and then topped with a traditional star or, fittingly, a lobster figurine.

5. OLD SKIS // COLORADO

Rather than throw out their old skis, some Coloradans donate them for Telluride’s Christmas ski tree. Since 2013, members of the ski town have created a tree made of colorful layers of skis, topped with a star made of ski poles. Locals even gather for a tree lighting ceremony and bonfire—they burn wood and cardboard skis to celebrate Ullr, the Norse god of skiing.

6. PALMETTOS // SOUTH CAROLINA

Christmas Palmetto Trees
iStock

If you visit Charleston during Christmas, you’ll see plenty of festive palmetto trees decorated with string lights. As the state tree of South Carolina (and Florida), the palmetto is all over the city, making it an ideal warm-weather alternative to the evergreen. Although most residents celebrate Christmas with traditional conifers, too, the prevalence of decorated palmettos is hard to ignore.

7. TUMBLEWEEDS // ARIZONA

Tumbleweeds are plentiful in the barren, desolate parts of the southwest. And in Chandler, Arizona, locals have used tumbleweeds to celebrate Christmas since 1957. To make the 30-foot-tall tumbleweed tree, Chandler Park Operations employees gather 1000 tumbleweeds, attach the plants to a tree-shaped wire frame, and spray the tree with white paint and glitter. They then decorate the tree with more than one thousand festive lights.

8. WHISKEY BARRELS // TENNESSEE

The Jack Daniel’s Distillery is world-famous for making authentic Tennessee whiskey. Thanks to the alcohol company, members of the Lynchburg community can celebrate the holidays by marveling at the company’s whiskey barrel tree. Made of 140 empty whiskey barrels, the tree stands at 26 feet and weighs 16,000 pounds.

10 Saccharine Facts About Sweetest Day

Peter Purdy, BIPs/Getty Images
Peter Purdy, BIPs/Getty Images

Unless you live in certain parts of the United States, there's a good chance you've never heard of Sweetest Day. For others, however, it's a century-old celebration. Here's what you need to know about the semi-obscure holiday.

1. THERE'S A REASON IT'S THE THIRD SATURDAY IN OCTOBER.

This image of newsboy Emil Frick was first published in The Cleveland Press on October 8, 1921.
This image of newsboy Emil Frick was first published in The Cleveland Press on October 8, 1921.
Digital scan courtesy of The Cleveland Public Library Microform Center, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When the holiday was founded in 1916, trick-or-treating hadn't become popular yet, so though Halloween existed, there was no autumn boost to the candy industry like there is now. That's why the National Confectioners Association invented a mid-season marketing gimmick to help increase sales before Christmas. Naturally, they tried to spin it otherwise, writing that the spirit of the day should be "interpreted as a spirit of good will, appreciation, and good fellowship."

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY KNOWN AS "CANDY DAY."

A Sweetest Day advertisement first published in The Cleveland Press on October 6, 1921.
A Sweetest Day advertisement first published in The Cleveland Press on October 6, 1921.
Digital scan courtesy of The Cleveland Public Library Microform Center, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Though the National Confectioners Association wanted the celebration to appear as if it was about more than just candy sales, the name they gave the holiday belied their efforts. It didn't become the slightly more subtle "Sweetest Day" until the 1920s.

3. HERBERT HOOVER WAS NOT PLEASED ABOUT IT.

In 1918, Herbert Hoover was the director of the United States Food Administration, and was closely associated with relief efforts Europe. Here, he is standing with his wife and daughter by a poster giving thanks to America for its help in providing food.
In 1918, Herbert Hoover was the director of the United States Food Administration, and was closely associated with relief efforts Europe. Here, he is standing with his wife and daughter by a poster giving thanks to America for its help in providing food.
A. R. Coster, Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Of course the year the holiday was founded, 1916, was smack in the middle of World War I. By the time the second annual day rolled around, Herbert Hoover, who was then the director of the U.S. Food Administration, reminded the National Confectioners Association that their consumerism creation wasn't exactly in the best interests of America's wartime efforts to conserve sugar.

In 1917, an industry bulletin called The International Confectioner noted, "As Mr. Hoover had requested everyone, everywhere, to cut down as much as possible on their usings of sugar, he considered that Candy Day was an effort on the part of our industry in the very opposite direction."

4. CELEBRITIES AND CAUSE MARKETING FINALLY DID THE TRICK.

Actress Theda Bara giving candy to orphans in 1921.
Actress Theda Bara giving candy to orphans in 1921.
Digital scan courtesy of The Cleveland Public Library Microform Center, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once it was safe to increase sugar production again, marketing efforts kicked back into high gear. In 1921, Cleveland Candy Day organizers got the bright idea to tie the promotion into charity, giving sweets to orphanages and the elderly. Actresses Theda Bara and Ann Pennington went to Cleveland to help distribute thousands of boxes of candy, which helped further popularize the celebration.

5. THERE'S ANOTHER TALE ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF THE HOLIDAY.

A 1922 ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
A 1922 ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

According to Hallmark, Sweetest Day came about because a candy company employee named Herbert Kingston simply wanted to spread joy to others and "bring happiness to the lives of those who often were forgotten." But The Atlantic calls this happy little story a complete fabrication, so take it with a grain of salt.

6. HALLMARK WAS LATE TO THE PARTY.

A man mailing a letter in 1960s New York.
Keystone, Getty Images

Though it's often referred to as a "Hallmark Holiday," Hallmark didn't actually get in on those sweet Sweetest Day profits until the 1960s—nearly 50 years after it was founded.

7. MOST SWEETEST DAY CARDS ARE ROMANTICALLY INCLINED.

This front-page Sweetest Day cartoon was published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer on October 8, 1921.
This front-page Sweetest Day cartoon was published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer on October 8, 1921.
Digital scan courtesy of The Cleveland Public Library Microform Center, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Despite the fact that Sweetest Day started as a way to hawk candy to the downtrodden, it's now just another Valentine's Day for many people. Hallmark makes more than 70 Sweetest Day cards—and 80 percent of them are romantic.

8. FOR SOME, IT'S MORE POPULAR THAN MOTHER'S DAY.

A little boy gives his mother some flowers
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

According to Retail Confectioners International, some retailers say their sales for Sweetest Day are better than their sales for Mother's Day. (Sorry, mom.)

9. THESE DAYS, SWEETEST DAY ISN'T JUST ABOUT THE CANDY.

Two women laughing together.
Fox Photos, Getty Images

Though those commemorating the holiday can certainly buy candy, that's just one of the ways people can express their appreciation for anyone who might not otherwise have a special day (a favorite aunt, a next-door neighbor, the pet sitter). Various ways to celebrate Sweetest Day include flowers, cards, gifts, or simply just doing good deeds for others.

10. NEVER HEARD OF SWEETEST DAY? YOU'RE NOT ALONE.

An ice cream vendor in New York hands a young girl an ice cream in the 1920s.
Elizabeth R. Hibbs, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sweetest Day never gained as much ground nationally as it did in the Great Lakes region. The main states that celebrate sweetness on the third Saturday of October are Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, though it has also spread to areas of New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, and California. The biggest Sweetest Day cities are Detroit, Buffalo, and of course, Cleveland.

This story first ran in 2016.

Today is National Necktie Day in Croatia—Birthplace of the Necktie

Srdjan Stevanovic, Getty Images
Srdjan Stevanovic, Getty Images

If you're wearing a necktie to work today, you can thank (or blame) the Croatians for this stylish invention. The necktie's predecessor, a short knotted garment called the cravat, is a source of pride in this Western Balkan nation—so much so that they celebrate Cravat Day each year on October 18.

It's unclear when exactly the necktie was invented, but Croatian soldiers wore red cravats as part of their uniform during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). According to The Atlantic, Croatian mercenaries carried it to Western Europe that same century, and the French borrowed the idea and dubbed it the cravate. It became even more stylish when Louis XIV of France started wearing a lace cravat in 1646 at the tender age of 7, according to The Dubrovnik Times. The English eventually helped spread the accessory around the world, and it morphed into the elongated form we're most familiar with today.

In 1997, a nonprofit organization called the Academia Cravatica was founded to promote the cravat as a symbol of Croatian ingenuity. "By spreading the truth about the cravat, we improve Croatia's image in the international public," the organization states. "The fact that Croats invented the Cravat makes us proud to be Croats." (According to Time Out, Croatia also invented the first MP3 player, the zeppelin, the parachute, and fingerprint identification.)

The cravat is also tied up with national identity. The words Croat and cravat are etymologically linked, and were once different spellings of the same word. One sample sentence by David Hume in 1752 reads, "The troops are filled with Cravates and Tartars, Hussars, and Cossacs."

The holiday isn't normally a big to-do, but the county's capital city, Zagreb, occasionally gets pretty festive. In 2003, when the holiday first debuted in Croatia, the Academia Cravatica wrapped an oversized red necktie around Pula Arena, a Roman amphitheater. It took two years to prepare and five days to install—and at 2650 feet long, it ended up being the largest necktie in the world, as recognized by Guinness World Records.

Cravat Day was formally declared a holiday by Croatian Parliament in 2008, and it's been a hallmark of Croatian culture ever since. A few events were planned in Zagreb today, including a march featuring the "city's famous Cravat Regiment." So if you happen to be in the Croatian capital, now you know why more than 50 historic statues are looking dapper in their red cravats.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER