Christmas in Slovakia > The Upside Down Christmas Tree

The Upside Down Christmas Tree > An Eastern European Tradition > 

One of the most unusual traditions of Eastern Europe is the way that a Christmas tree was placed in a home. From Krakow to the Carpathian Highlands, it was displayed point down.

As the great migration to America took place at the turn of the 20th Century, many of of the new American neighbors of these immigrants from the Eastern Europe were traumatized when they visited the homes of their new neighbors from Eastern Europe. They had their Christmas tree going in the wrong direction!

It is thought that the term “Doing something the Polish way” originated from the display of these trees. Legend says that England’s St. Boniface, who travelled to Germany to teach in the 7th Century A.D., was furious when he saw pagans revering an oak tree. He hacked it down, but when he did, a fir tree sprang up on the spot. Legend also says that Boniface used the triangular shape of the Fir Tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The converted people began to revere the Fir tree as God’s Trinity Tree, as they had previously revered the Oak. 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 decorated tree recorded was at Riga in Latvia, in the early 1500’s.

Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small Christmas tree with candles to show his children how the stars twinkled through the dark and holy night. The early trees were biblically symbolic of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden. Food and flowers were used to decorate the tree. The many food items were symbols of plenty. The flowers, originally only red for knowledge and white for innocence completed the tree. It is thought that the colors of red and green for Christmas originated from this tradition. Red flowers on a green tree.

The ancient Polish custom was to hang from the ceiling in a central position with the topmost part of a spruce tree, upside down, and to decorate doorways and wall with separate boughs of the same tree. These were variously called “sad”, “podlaz,”or “podlazniczek.” The most festive ornaments, decorated with ribbons, wafers, and decorations made of straw were hung above the Wigilia dinner table.

Podlazniczka or Sad is a Christmas decoration that pre-dated the imported German Christmas tree in Poland. It is the peak of an evergreen, suspended upside down from the ceiling or rafters point-side-down and decorated with fruit, nuts and sweets in shimmering wrappings, with decorations made of foods, straw, oplatek, and gold-painted spruce cones that made Christmas special.

In the Krakow region, they decorated a hanging upside down top a pine tree with apples, nuts, pears, and ginger breads. Beginning the day after Christmas these delicacies could be eaten by children and carolers.

Maybe we have all been putting our Christmas trees up the wrong way for all our lives.

In November 2005, CNN reported that one of the best selling trees at Target, one of America’s largest retailers, is the upside down Christmas tree.

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