Seven Places Reinventing the Christmas Tree

From rocket gardens to tumbleweeds, here are some of the most imaginative holiday trees in the United States

(Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex)
smithsonian.com

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas as people deck their halls with fir, pine, spruce and other popular conifers. But for some, having a lush evergreen as their holiday showpiece just isn't enough. Across the country, people are innovating by taking their holiday decorating skills to the next level and using whatever materials are abundant in their local areas. From dusty tumbleweeds in Arizona to rusted lobster pots in Massachusetts, welcome to the United States of Christmas Trees.

Tumbleweed Tree, Chandler, Arizona

Tumbleweed Tree, Chandler, Arizona (Peter Bronski)

For the past 60 years, the citizens of Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix have been kicking off the winter holidays with a celebration under the twinkling lights of an enormous tumbleweed Christmas tree. Each autumn, city workers begin foraging the Sonoran Desert with pitchforks in search of the dried up plants that have detached from their roots, a common sight in these parts—and a familiar set piece to any true spaghetti western fan. Once they've amassed enough, the workers use wire frames to connect the tumbleweeds into the shape of a Christmas tree, and then spraying it with flame retardant, paint and handfuls of glitter. Topped with a star, this year’s tree will tower 35 feet in height.

Singing Christmas Tree, Muskegon, Michigan

Singing Christmas Tree, Muskegon, Michigan (Hume Photography)

Each year for the past 32 years, members of the Mona Shores High School choir in Michigan unite their small community in song during the annual candlelight a cappella Mona Shores Singing Christmas Tree concert. Standing 67 feet in height, it takes a team of 200 volunteers to build the giant “erector set” framework of steel. Once built, it can hold between 240 and 275 singers, and is decorated with 25,000 lights and 5,000 linear feet of greenery. It's a sight to behold from anywhere in the crowd, but the best seat in the house undoubtedly goes to the vocalist at the top of the tree, who is known as “the tree angel.”

LEGO Tree, Winter Haven, Florida

LEGO Tree, Winter Haven, Florida (Chip Litherland/LEGOLAND Florida Resort)

Over the years, many children have attempted to build a Christmas tree using only their LEGOs—but perhaps none of their creations has been as monumental as the one at LEGOLAND Florida Resort, located 50 miles east of Tampa in Winter Haven. Named the Christmas Bricktacular, the theme park’s annual holiday celebration includes a 30-foot tall Christmas tree made out of 270,000 LEGOs and DUPLOs (basically extra-large LEGO bricks). It takes a half-dozen workers several months to build the massive conifer, along with a LEGO Santa and a LEGO Toy Soldier.  

Glass Plate Tree, Corning, New York

Glass Plate Tree, Corning, New York (Courtesy The Corning Museum of Glass)

If there’s one material that The Corning Museum of Glass has in abundance, it’s glass. So it’s no wonder that for nearly a decade, the Upstate New York-based museum would create a 14-foot Christmas tree out of colorful blown-glass ornaments—2,000 of them, to be exact. Looking to innovate this year, but not willing to break too far from tradition, Corning’s Hot Glass Demo Team, the group responsible for educating the public on the wonders of glassmaking, decided to make a second tree, this one using more than 200 hand-spun glass plates. 

Lobster Pot Tree, Provincetown, Massachusetts

As many seafood lovers agree, winter is an ideal time to eat lobster—and the waters off of Massachusetts have plenty of the delicious crustacean to go around. Located at the very tip of Cape Cod, the community of Provincetown celebrates all things lobster by creating a Christmas tree using more than 100 lobster pots, the cages used by fishermen. Stacked on top of each other, volunteers trim the tree with 120 bows, 46 plastic lobsters, 58 buoys and 3,400 LED lights. 

Shopping Cart Tree, Santa Monica, California

Shopping Cart Tree, Santa Monica, California (Anthony Schmitt)

Carefully balancing 86 metal shopping carts, one on top of the other, is no easy feat, but artist Anthony Schmitt has been up to the task every winter for the past 22 years. Using hose clamps, Schmitt and a team of workers build their 34-foot rendition of a traditional Christmas tree at Edgemar shopping center in Santa Monica. They also construct a “miniature” tree using 22 shopping carts. And they’re not alone in the feat; others have taken a shot at building shopping cart replicas in places as far flung as Michigan and Montreal, Canada. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Holidays in Space, Titusville, Florida

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex)

No where else on Earth will you find a garden made out of rockets, unless of course it's at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex near Orlando. And come Christmastime, the center spruces up its collection of missiles, sounding rockets and space launch vehicles for Holidays in Space, a custom light display that blends Christmas photos with historic footage of launches plus videos captured by the International Space Station, all of which are then projected onto the side of a Saturn 1B rocket. This year's event begins December 21 and runs every evening through January 1, except for on Christmas Day. 

About Jennifer Nalewicki

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Brooklyn-based journalist. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, United Hemispheres and more. You can find more of her work at her website.

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