As the holidays approach, brace yourself for a trend that is popping up more and more across the South—upside down Christmas trees. These aren’t chandeliers that look like Christmas trees, but actual trees dangling from ceiling like overgrown mistletoe, confusing holiday shoppers. They show up hanging from the ceiling in malls and dangling near staircases in hotels and are all over Instagram thanks to their photogenic, gravity-defying good looks. These days upside down trees are the go-to choice for anyone that wants to make a bold holiday statement (and has strong ceiling hooks). It’s a very striking modern look, save for one thing—it’s not modern at all.
The symbol of the upside-down tree is believed to stem from way back in the 7th century. That’s when a Benedictine monk named Boniface decided to teach a group of pagans an important lesson, according to the CBC, which credits Father William Saunders’ story, The Christmas Tree. It all started when he spotted a group of pagans worshipping at an oak tree. Instead of just preaching to them from the Gospel, he cut down the oak tree and a fir tree grew in its place. Boniface then cut down the fir, hung it upside down, and used the triangular shape to teach the pagans about the arrangement of the Holy Trinity. Complicated, but apparently effective.
While Mental Floss notes that like much of early history, the tale of St. Boniface may not be entirely true, the trend has been, ahem, hanging around for centuries. According to the CBC, it really kicked off in Eastern Europe in the 12th century, particularly in southern Poland thanks to a tradition called podłazniczek. Polish families would suspend Christmas trees from the ceiling and decorate them with “fruit, nuts, sweets wrapped in shiny paper, straw, ribbons, gold-painted pine cones", The Spruce reports. The trees were upside down as an homage to Christianity, due to St. Boniface’s influence and the fact that the shape resembles the crucifix. Mental Floss adds that it may just have been “the tip of a fir tree or a branch” but the effect was similar.
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The trend continued through the years, catching on in the 19th century for entirely different reasons—saving space. "In the small common rooms of the lower classes, there was simply no space," CBC reports Bernd Brunner wrote in his book, Inventing the Christmas Tree, which includes an illustration of a hanging tree from the 19th century. Dangling the tree upside-down from the ceiling meant families could decorate for the holidays, but also have room to walk around and enjoy the festivities.
These days, upside down trees are the decoration of choice for interior designers looking for a striking holiday display. Plus, upside down trees make it easy to keep precious ornaments out of the hands of little ones and rambunctious pets. It also opens up floor space and makes it easy to pile gifts under the tree.
If you want to try the trend out yourself, Amazon, Wayfair, and other stores sell upside down Christmas trees or you can just haul a fir inside and string it up yourself—just make sure your ceiling can handle the weight