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Eastern European Tradition of Upside-Down Christmas Trees

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Upside-Down Christmas Tree

Upside-Down Christmas Tree

© adamsphilipid on flickr

Upside-Down Christmas Trees Not a Modern Fad

If you have seen upside-down Christmas trees for sale on ebay or through Hammacher Schlemmer and thought they were modern, space-saving versions of traditional Christmas trees, think again. The tradition of hanging a Christmas tree upside down from the ceiling is an old one in Eastern Europe.

How It All Began

Legend has it that England's St. Boniface was furious when he saw pagans revering an oak tree in 7th-century Germany where he was teaching. He cut it down, but a fir tree sprang up on the spot. Boniface used the triangular shape of this fir tree as a tool to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The pagans who had been converted to Christianity began to revere the fir tree as God's Trinity Tree. By the 12th century, it was being hung upside down from ceilings at Christmastime in Eastern Europe, as a symbol of Christianity and God the Son becoming man.

The first records of a tree being decorated was in the 1500s at Riga, Latvia. The early trees were a symbol of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden and, thus, were decorated with food and flowers to denote abundance.

Upside-down Christmas trees are common among many Slavic groups -- Carpatho-Rusyns, Poles, Slovaks and Ukrainians.

Polish Upside-Down Christmas Trees

In days gone by, but to some extent today, Poles in southern Poland -- Silesia, Podhale, Sącz region and Kraków -- hung a spruce tree upside down from the ceiling in a central position of the home and decorated doorways and walls with separate boughs of the same tree.

These were variously called sad, podłaz, or podłazniczek (pawd-wahz-NEE-chek). They were decorated with fruit, nuts, sweets wrapped in shiny paper, straw, ribbons, gold-painted pine cones, opłatki, and decorations made of straw or colorful paper, and often hung above the wigilia dinner table but not until Christmas Eve.

In the Kraków region, the tree or choinka (ho-EEN-kah) was decorated with apples, nuts, pears, and gingerbread. Not until the day after Christmas could these treats be eaten by children and carolers.

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